Building an Inspiration Portfolio

Where does a writer get inspiration for writing? Well, speaking for myself anyway, the answer is ‘pretty much everywhere’. A random line dropped at a store; a sibling’s innocent comment; a heartrending scene in a movie; a thrilling scene from a book; or a random line or picture of my own which tickles my brain right before I fall asleep. But even a writer can only remember so much, which is why long ago I started building what I like to call my inspiration portfolio.

An inspiration portfolio is so much fun to build that I’d probably do it simply for the sake of building it. But not only is it fun, it can also be very helpful. I’ve divided mine into three main categories.

Words:

By far the largest category is ‘words’. Originally I had a notebook where I wrote down all the random lines I heard or thought of. I’d other sections for descriptions and others for one line story ideas. But there was simply too much material and, as cool as paper was (and still is) I eventually transferred everything to my computer.

Right now, my portfolio consists of several documents. The largest is titled ‘sayings, descriptions, and one-liners’. It runs over 100 pages and has hundreds of says, categorized under ‘happy/hopeful/inspiring’ to ‘bad guy lines’ and ‘danger/war/fighting’. Some of these lines are based off of books or movies, while others I came up with on my own. I would suggest, when taking lines from movies, to either write down the line exactly as it was spoke and make a note of where it came from, or else change it slightly before you even write it down. This is something regret not doing in the past; it’s nice knowing what is my own idea and what isn’t. This isn’t to say you can never use a direct quote from a movie; there are only so many combinations of how something can be said after all, but I tend to reword slightly most if not all the time.

My descriptions range from a few sentences describing a misty morning to a detailed paragraph laying out the step by step process of my face becoming numb during a dental visit. And one-lines are exactly that that, random phrases such as ‘a dungeon of ice’ or ‘calling helicopters helochoppers’ or ‘hopeless climb’. I also have a page of titles; catchy one-liners full of promise.

The beauty of using a computer and something like Microsoft word is that you can easily locate all your different categories as well as simply search for a keyword. Fore example, when love was a theme for a book, I searched for the word love and then skimmed through all the entries which came up. It’s not a perfect system, but better than trying to do it all manually.

My second largest document bears the title ‘plots, themes, ideas, scenes’. Any fragments of a plot or theme idea I get goes there, along with character ideas, beginning lines for stories, and the bare bones of cool scenes. Again, everything is categorized to help me find what I want easier.

I also have several more documents, some containing names I’ve run across, others holding full scenes I’ve written but which don’t belong to any stories, and others containing interesting bits of research that I can someday throw in a story.

Pictures:

My second largest category is pictures. I use Pinterest for this and have dozens of boards now. Some contain pictures of all sorts which could be used for a character. Young men, older men, women, children…fantasy creatures. I’ve also boards full of random quotes or story prompts and others with inspirational pictures or random pictures of cool items which could be in a story. Pinterest is afloat with ideas of all kinds and you can get a glimpse of my boards here.

Once I decide to write a story, I make a storyboard and go through all my other relevant boards, pulling in the various characters, lines, and settings I think could help me write my story. To be quite frank, sometimes I get so much material it’s as much a hindrance as a help because there are so many cool things I could do and I have to settle on one. But I will say that finding pictures of characters has helped me develop them more than anything else since discovering character questionnaires.

Songs:

There are some songs I listen too over and over simply because they seem so full of story ideas Mordred’s Lullaby, for example…a weird dark song but perfect for a villain. Or the Plague song in Prince of Egypt or Once Upon a December from Anastasia (though I don’t recommend the movie but this song is really cool). Songs can be perfect for characters or stories and, though they take up a much smaller percentage of space than either words or pictures, they are too moving to ignore.

Now please note, this is how I have structured my writing portfolio. There are many different ways you can form one of your own, and there may be other categories which you have which I’ve skipped over. And that’s perfectly find because there isn’t one right way to set up a portfolio. You could have photo albums or photo books or notebooks or files. But, however you structure it, an inspiration portfolio you can search through when you’re working on developing a story, or are stuck wanting something to write, is a great help to any writer. Plus, it’s great fun to create.

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Hunters of Shadowfen

It wasn’t nearly as large as the villagers had made it out to be. As big as cottage, certainly. If one counted the snaky tentacles along its huge humped back, it might almost rival two cottages. But it wasn’t twice the size of the town hall as the energetic alderman had insisted. Certainly not large enough to earn a monster rating. More like a beast, second class.
I drew a soft breath through parted lips and turned my head again, peering over the rim of the rickety canoe toward the creature slowly pulling itself from the depths of the Shadowfen. Its stumpy, scale-covered legs splashed water in all directions as its claws sank deep into the mud. The tentacles on its jaw rippled as the beast moved its head back and forth slowly, sniffing.
“Dorian?” My sister breathed out the word at my elbow.
“It’s working,” I replied, my eyes drifting to the light at the prow of the boat. My hand closed about the smooth staff of my javelin. “I think it’s blind, but it can probably sense the heat…and hear and smell.”
Tanla shifted next to me. “Big too. How fast do you think it can move?”
I titled my head slightly as the creature paused. Its dim eyes shifted the shadows in our direction.
“Looks like we’re about to find out. Ready to run?”
Tanla’s teeth shown white in the dim light as she grinned. “Ready.”
“And who knows?” I raised my eyebrows as she unwrapped a sling and prepared a scale-piercing stone. “Perhaps if we take care of this thing, the council will send us after a real monster.”
“Perhaps.”
We both stiffened as the beast snorted, then our gazes met.
I nodded slightly. “Charge.”

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Shadow in the Night

Another random scene, or flash fiction as I’ve heard them called. The scene turned out differently than what I expected when I started it, and by the time I was finished I decided it needed a book of its own. When and where, I don’t know, but someday I’m going to write this story.

“What have you done?” Magden staggered back as the dark figure withdrew his glittering blade from his chest. A weakness he’d not felt in an age and a half course through his veins. “I carry the blood of dragons. No mortal blade can slay me.”
“Except this isn’t a mortal blade.” The moonlight glinted off a grimacing mask as the dark figure stepped to the edge of his cloaking shadows. He chuckled as Magden’s own blade slipped from his gauntleted fingers and he stumbled to one knee. “This blade is forged in the fires of Fate herself, and purged with the three-twined blood of king, dragon, and warrior.”
Magden drew a sharp breath, blinking away a mist which hovered before his eyes. It couldn’t be…how, by all that was pure…?
“There are few…who can wield such a blade.” The words fell between his labored breathing.
“And only one who is as dark as I.” The figure lifted a booted foot, shoving Magden in the chest.
Magden muffled a groan as he crumpled on the pavement of the narrow street. Gritting his teeth, he forced himself up on one elbow just as silver flashed in his vision. A mask clattered, spinning on the stones only inches from his face. Slowly Magden lifted his gaze to the cloaked figure as cold terror settled in his bones.
“Darow.” The word fell from his lips like the name of death itself.
The figure inclined his head slightly. “Didn’t think you’d recognize me after all these years.”
“You thought I’d forget?”
“It would have been better if you had.” Darow shrugged and sheathed his sword. “But greater things are breaking with the tide of night. Things you cannot stop. Or perhaps I should say, could not stop if you weren’t already dying.”
He should have known…should have suspected. The rumors…the age of peace…it was never meant to last. Magden shook his head weakly as Darow turned away. He’d failed…failed again, and the united nations of Karisa would pay the price. Darkness swept about him, cloaking the dim lamps, cloaking the street, cloaking the retreating figure. But still he heard his nemesis’s final words, drifting with an evening breeze.
“Good night for the final time, my brother.”

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The End

Another random scene from Ravelry. I was quite pleased with this one, based off the picture below.

She wasn’t ready, but it was coming anyway.
She could feel it in the trembling of the earth beneath the feet of hundreds of armies. She could hear it in the faint clashes echoing from the beginning of the age. She could taste it in the saltiness of tears and smell it in the smoke of a thousand homes.
The end…The end was coming.
Taking a deep breath, she stared upwards, facing the last gleams of light which sliced though the tall trees. The last gleams of the last day of the last age…
How many had she lost? How many had bled and died? How many were still suffering?
The light blinked out, but resolve hardened in her heart and she finally brought her gaze to the forest floor. To the small chest lying there. And to the iron key in her hand.
The end. The end. The end. The words throbbed though the air about her.
The end was coming.
Her hand didn’t tremble as she crouched, twisting the key in the lock then throwing it into the brush.
The end was coming.
Slowly she rose, lifting the trunk.
Around her the winds quickened, carrying with them the thunder of battle, the weeping of woman, and the last cries of the wounded.
Resolve crystallized into grim determination.
She was ready.
Without hesitation, without trembling, she slowly lifted the lid of the chest. Blue mist billowed out, tossing in the wind and curling away.
Slowly, she closed her eyes as the earth stilled and the sounds faded.
All was silent except for the moaning of the wind.
The end had come.

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Undercover Prince

I’ve been writing short scenes for various pictures writing prompts, both on my forum and on a writing group in Ravelry. I liked some of them so much that I’ve decided to start sharing them here on my blog. So, without more ado, here is my first one.

I could see them coming. With brilliant lightning searing the night sky, the only hindrance to our sight was the cold pelleting rain which dashed against our eyes and dripped from our blades.

Already the disorganized tramp of thousands of feet echoed off the cliff walls rising to either side of my two comrades and me.
“How do we need to kill before they’ll run?” The ranger to my left lifted his axe, his eyes gleaming as water streamed from his beard.
“More than you’ll be able to handle on your own,” the officer to my right chuckled grimly as he shifted his sword. “But we’ll be able to hold them off long enough, eh, Adrian?” He slapped me on the back. “What do you say to a wager? I’ll lay down a dozen crescents we’ll last fifteen minutes.
“It’s not enough.”
“Twenty crescents then.”
I shake my head. “There are woman and children behind us. They’ll not reach the fortress for several hours yet…” I glanced over our position on top of a landslide as thunder rolled.
“Some ray of light you are.”
I smiled grimly and my eyes fastened on the silver and black banner of the onrushing Shangarian horde. “There is one way…” I closed my eyes, my hand closing about the horn hanging concealed at my side. I’d not planned to reveal myself yet; a few weeks more…but there was no time.
With a swift motion I lifted the horn to my lips and blew a long shuddering blast though the night.
The oncoming soldiers wavered and my comrades stared at me as I threw back my hood, slowly advancing towards the Shangarians.
“Halt.” My voice echoed through the storm. “Halt, at the orders of your Prince.” I stopped before the foremost Shangarians, meeting each of their eyes as they stared at me. Recognition slowly seeped through the darkness and slowly, but without hesitation, the foremost soldiers knelt as a low murmur ran though the army.
A murmur which rose to a cheer and battled the storm.
“Prince Adrian has returned!”
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Tramping of Feet

One of my first articles was on the speed and distance of horses. Now I’ve decided to write about the same topic as it relates to men and armies.
 
 A healthy adult, who is used to walking, can walk an average of 20-30 miles a day. Many trained walkers finish the 26.2 mile Portland Marathon in around seven hours…without taking breaks. If the walker does take breaks 20 miles a day is reasonable, while a steady walker with no breaks could cover 30 miles a day. Historically, the Western pioneers, where many people walked along with the wagons, normally covered around 20 miles a day.
The official average of a human’s walking speed is 3.1 mph. Now, obviously, there are variations to this speed if someone is old, young, or sick. Or if they haven’t walked very much. According to one account, a beginner can walk six miles in two hours fairly easily while ten or more miles will likely cause some blisters.
Figuring out running speeds is a bit trickier. People (and note that I’m talking about healthy trained adults) can sprint at 15.9 mph which equals 100 meters in 13-14 seconds. Now, seeing the Olympic qualifying time in 2012 was 10.18 seconds for 100 meters in the case of men (11.29 for women) the average person may or may not be able to run that quickly or for that long.
A moderately fit man should be able to run a mile in nine minutes. Two or three minutes can be cut off for a trained man and the record of a mile hovers under four minutes.
For distance running, I was finally forced to look up marathons for information (everything else seemed to be about health and fitness). In any case, the average finishing time for a 26.2 mile marathon in the USA is four hours, nineteen minutes for men and four hours, forty-four minutes for women. This equals a 9.5-10.5 mph speed kept up for the better part of a day. Elite marathon runners can finish the race in a little over two hours, but this is not a common case.
If a runner is needed in a story (or if it is the main character running) it’s not unusual for them to travel faster than the average person, so here are a few running records to give you something to base your times on. Remember, however, that the speeds listed below are on smooth tracks…not cross-country as most runners in a book will probably be.
Mile: 3 minutes, 43 seconds
5000 meters: 12 minutes, 37 seconds
10,000 meters: 26 minutes, 18 seconds
Half a Marathon: 58 minutes, 23 seconds
Marathon: 2 hours, 3 minutes, 59 seconds
Records that might be a bit more applicable include cross country times of 1 hour, 11 minutes for half a marathon.
And finally, army speeds. 15-18 miles a day seem to be about the average speed (with the army traveling around seven hours a day). 5-10 miles a day could be reasonable for a peasant army while a fully mounted army could travel around 30 miles a day. Forced marches, obviously, could would move the army faster for a day or two, perhaps doubling the average speed.

Walking source

Marathon source

Running record source

Army marching source

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By Arrow Swift

Bows of many kinds appear in fantasy writing, among them the crossbow and long bow. Which one your character or army should use depends upon the culture, armor, and many other factors.
The crossbow was the first hand-held weapon that an untrained soldier could use to injure or kill a knight in late Medieval times. The most powerful crossbows could penetrate plate armor, killing at 200 yards or more. Longbowmen could also pierce plate armor up to 250 yards. The largest difficulty was that longbowmen were normally highly trained soldiers, who’d practiced from their youth to master archery. They were expensive and not easily replaced.
Anyone, on the other hand, could use a crossbow. They were easier to aim and could be loaded before hand, allowing a man to shoot quickly if surprised. But reloading took much longer. A soldier with a crossbow could shoot 2-3 times in a minute while an experienced longbowman would loose 10-12 arrows in the same time.
A crossbow could cast a bolt about 370-380 yards. Throughout Medieval times, crossbows became more powerful and one bolt from an actual Medieval crossbow shot 490 yards.

Well-trained longbowmen could commonly shoot 250-350 yards. Some modern archers using reproduced longbows have shot 350-450 yards while there is a claim of one man loosing an arrow 482 yards with a longbow.

And a few more random, yet useful, facts:
  • An arrow (or a bolt, if it’s from a crossbow) is not ‘fired’. This is a mistake many people make and which I am probably guilty of myself. The term ‘fired’ is related to gunpowder. Arrows are ‘loosed’.
  • Crossbows are kept strung and loaded. Longbows are kept unstrung and (contrary to some movies and books) shouldn’t be hung over the shoulder.
  • Medieval longbows were made to measure, and ranged from 6-7 feet in length.
  • The wood of the longbow was protected with a rub of wax, resin, and fine tallow.
  • Arrows called short bodkins were used for piercing plate armor while others called swallowtails were used to bring down horses.
And so, crossbow or longbow? Or, my personal favorite, the recurve bow? I’ve sadly neglected the latter weapon in this article and plan on writing about it in the future. But each bow has various strengths and weaknesses, so in the end the choice of which one to use is yours (or maybe your character’s, if you let them get away with it).
First source and second source for article.
First picture (source)
Second picture (source)
Third picture (source)
Fourth picture (source)
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Thundering of Hooves

Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder? 
Canst thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? the glory of his nostrils is terrible. 
He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength: he goeth on to meet the armed men. 
He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. 
The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. 
He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage: neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. 
He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting. 
Job 39:19-25
 
Horses are beautiful, powerful, and full of fascination. Whether leading charges in battle, carrying kings in triumphant marches, racing across plains with urgent messages, or working in fields and carrying packs for traders and peasants, horse take their place in many books.
But, as epic as horses can be in writing, there limits to what they can do. So how fast and how far can horses really travel?
Horses have four basic gaits.
1. Walk: averages 4 mph
2. Trot: averages 8 to 12 mph
3. Canter: averages 12-15 mph
4. Gallop: averages 25-30 mph
Now it is obvious that a horse can’t sustain a gallop for hours on end. Even after walking it will eventually get tired. Here are a few accounts of horses through history to give you some basic references.
Mounted knights, during medieval times, could move fairly fast and cover 50-60 miles per day. Traveling 20-30 miles a day was considered a good distance, however. (Source)
During the 1860s, the Pony Express horses averaged nine mph over 25 mile stages.
In the Middle East, 26 mile marathons are won in just over an hour.
Texas Rangers once rode 60 miles between noon and dusk.
Mongol horses were hardy. In a history book I read, it said a Mongol horse once covered 600 miles in a single day. That’s 25 miles an hour…a sustained gallop for 24 straight hours. Unfortunately I don’t remember what the book is called, so I can’t verify the source. And this is not something any horse could do. A mounted Mongol army could travel 130 miles in two days, moving without a break.
But how about common travel? Here’s a handy list of the average miles per day a horse can travel under different conditions. This is assuming the horse is suitable for riding, conditioned for overland travel, and in good health. Also assuming that the weather fair, the roads/trails are in good conditions, and the travelers are riding for about ten hours a day.

On Roads / trails
Level or rolling terrain: 40
Hilly terrain: 30
Mountainous terrain: 20

Off-Road (or unkempt trails etc)
Level/rolling grasslands: 30
Hilly grasslands: 25
Level/rolling forest/thick scrub: 20
Very hilly forest/thick scrub: 15
Un-blazed Mountain passes: 10
Marshland: 10

Different conditions will make a change in time, as seen below.

 

 
A horse pulling a cart or a heavily laden horse: half the distance
 

 

Trained horses and riders (rangers, scouts, messengers): add half to the distance…though a horse won’t be able to keep up this pace for more than a few days at a time. An exceptional horse could maybe double the time.
Poor weather (heavy rain or wind): reduce distances by a quarter
Bad weather (heavy snow): reduce distances by half if not more.

(Source)

 

Found on Pinterest

 

 

What about the exceptional horses who make epic runs to carry urgent messages of invasion or pleas for help? How fast can some horses be pushed?

 

 

 

The Trevis cup is a 100 mile competition covering rugged and mountainous trails in the western United States. The Arabian horses that win this race, with little or no baggage, usually reach the end after about 17 hours.
In 1935, 28 riders rode Akhal-Tekes, a rare breed of horses from Turkmenistan who are known for their endurance, from Ashkabad to Moscow, This 2,600 mile ride included 215 miles of the harsh Kara Kum desert. They finished in 84 days.
The Marquis of Huntly rode from Aberdeen, Scotland, to Inverness (105 miles) in seven hours using eight relays of horses. Each horse averaged 15 mph for around 13 miles.
In 1886, Frank Hopkins rose a stallion 1800 miles in 31 days. He averaged 58 miles a day, traveling no more than ten hours a day, and the horse finished in excellent condition.
Found on Pinterest
Now, I have no idea how far or fast winged horses can fly, but here is a picture of what such a creature might look like. I want one. Anyway, I hope this has been helpful. For more writing details on horses (in general), this website has quite a bit of useful information.

 

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By Blade and Mettle

 
Swords and sword fights appear in many books and movies. It is also a subject that many writers work with, especially if you write lots of fantasy. Now, if you are anything like me, you may have seen sword fights in movies like Prince Caspian or The Princess Bride and base your own fights off common and seemingly ‘standard’ warrior moves and tactics.
But as I read more about swords, I realized a fact I already knew but didn’t think too much about. The swordmanship in most movies and books is for show only. Real sword fights were much different.
First there are a number of misconceptions about swords, some of which I was surprised to learn myself.
For starters, swords do not weigh 10 to 12 pounds. They were really not very heavy, averaging around 2.5 pounds apiece. Even the large, two-handed blades weren’t normally heavier than 4 pounds. (Now of course in a fantasy world your swords might be heavy. The swords I’ll be talking about in this article are Medieval type swords.)
Also, swords didn’t have blunt edges. Well, actually this depends on what the sword is meant for. If is is a thrusting weapon, then it might just have a well defined tip. But otherwise the swords edges could be sharp and many Medieval swords have been found with edges still sharp. One note…however sharp they were, swords were not meant to cut through armor. That was the whole point of armor, to protect the wearer from the sword. Even thrusting swords were designed to stab through the joints of the armor, not through the armor itself. (Now of course, you might have a super-strong warrior or an armor-cutting sword or something like that, but as a general rule…)
Now about the fights themselves. In most sword fights you see and read about, the blades constantly clash against each other, normally edge against edge. A more realistic scenario is one fighter parring the blade of another with the flat of his sword to avoid damaging to the edge of the blade. But there are other moves to a fight than just metal-bashing, including (at times) simply moving the sword aside so the opponents sword cuts nothing but empty air. Real sword-fighters were less animated and more cautious than many actors performing their choreographed moves. And sword fights general did not take long.
Now let me say right here that the information for this latter part of the article comes from a book I bought and read awhile back. It’s the best resource I’ve found for learning about realistic sword fighting enough to write about it (without learning how to sword fight myself. It’s called Medieval Swordsmanship by John Clements.)
Anyway, the credits for the list of things not to do in a sword fight (below) comes from the book I just mentioned, though I have reworded it a bit. These are notorious and common cliches of choreographed fighting which would (probably) never happen on a battlefield. 
  • Long, dramatic pauses as two foes lock swords and deliver terse short (and, admittedly at times, cool) lines. Swords, when they lock, only pause the fight for the fraction of a second. And, when a person is fighting for their life, they don’t stop to for cute insults and comebacks.
  • Punching and kicking when there’s an opening instead of just cutting or stabbing.
  • Closing in to hit the enemy with the hilt or pommel of the sword instead of the blade (there might be a time when a soldier does use his hilt, but if the fighter can use his sword, then he’ll use his sword).
  • Finishing off the enemy with a simple stab after minutes of nothing but trying to hack at him throughout the fight.
  • Spinning and twirling the sword in one hand during the middle of a battle (or the warrior spinning himself) might look cool but will probably be the last dramatic act the spinner will ever make.
  • Swinging at a disarmed opponent yet still missing him over and over. I mean, the person might be quick, but in a logical situation, he’ll probably be hurt or killed pretty quickly.
  • Missing a strike so that the inertia of the blow spins the attacker around.
  • Having the hero lose his sword and recover it. Sure, it could happen…maybe. It’s cool in books and movies. But for real life, if a soldier loses his sword he’ll probably be killed before he recovers it.
And really…how come the hero can spend ten minutes in a duel with the villain just before or after cutting down ten of minions in one minute? It’s just what happens in a book or movie, but that doesn’t make it realistic. (Not to say I am innocent of this myself, but it is something to keep in mind.)
Anyway, those are a few myths corrected and a few tips on what is not a realistic way to fight. For more information on how a sword fight should progress, I highly recommend the book I linked above.
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