A Writing Journey

Archive for the ‘Development’ Category

Growing

About a month ago I posted about rewriting the entirety of my novel (and subsequent sequels). During this process, I have learned things I didn’t expect about my characters and about myself. Some of it is benign, and some of it is deep, telling to the story and the characters’ motives.

When  I first wrote QFS, my focus was only Lacey. Hers was the only story worth telling in my mind. I was writing from a place of sorrow, and she, too, bore her own sorrow. As I revised, her sorrow grew smaller and smaller. In this rewrite, it is an old sorrow, that informs her character but is rarely mentioned. She’s grown up, she isn’t a child holding onto her pain and loss. She has desires, motivations, dreams, and morals. And she isn’t alone.

There is a famous piece of advice that says we should write every character as if they believe they are the main character. In earlier revisions I’d begun doing this with my antagonists – after all they must have a believable backstory. Now my market vendors have rivalries and vendettas, my sailors have worries, my teachers have prejudices and faults. And my main characters have secrets. The story is about Lacey, yes, but it isn’t just about Lacey.

If there is one piece of advice I can give you when you write, don’t stop after the first or second or third draft. Let it sit. Read psychology and self-help books while it’s sitting. Get into your characters’ heads and out of your own. Believe that your book will be something, because it already is.

Beginning Worldbuilding in 3 Steps

A friend of mine recently said “I hate worldbuilding, that’s why I only write fanfiction these days.” I’ve heard the sentiment before, and it shocks me every time. Worldbuilding is my favorite part of writing. I love diving into something that isn’t even real yet and figuring it out, deciding how the people live, how things are done. There is a lot that goes into worldbuilding, and all at various stages of how much you want to accomplish, or how much you need for the story (trust me, it’s always more than you think, but if you have the basics, the rest will come while you write).

So what does one need, to start worldbuilding? I have A NUMBER OF TIPS for you in this post. I will say, before we get too far, that not every story needs tons of worldbuilding. If you are writing a fiction or fantasy that takes place in this world, you may have a specific place in mind so you don’t have to build one. But you may have to take more time developing the magic system or history of were-creatures. As with all writing tips, use them or don’t at your own discretion.

Tip #1: Make maps.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know about my obsession with maps. I draw maps for all of my stories (heck – I draw maps for my ideas and the ideas that haven’t even become ideas yet). This is one of the most important parts of worldbuilding, so you can get oriented and know what’s where. Think about it: have you ever read a book and come across a passage that jars you directionally? For instance, if I’m reading a book and it says they are going east, but then says the rising sun is behind them? Or even not having a discrepancy like that, and just assuming the layout of the world is one way, but in the author’s mind it is the complete opposite? Maps help with this. Maps will help you, the writer, avoid mistakes like the one illustrated above, and they will help readers have a clear vision of your world.

So make maps. Not just of countries and continents, but cities and buildings and important places in your story. You don’t have to include everything in the end, but if you know it, you’ll be able to write more clearly about it.

Tip #2: Think about religion.

Okay, I know a lot of people aren’t religious. I’m not very religious. But we can’t deny that religion plays a huge roll in our world. If you are creating a world from scratch, there are going to be creation myths, legends, and maybe even texts that someone decides is the key for how to live life. Some of these are going to evolve into religions. Because people want something to believe in, whether they are characters in a book, or real people. If you don’t want to have any religions in your book, there should be a good reason for their absence. Not one that you necessarily have to share, but it will inform your writing if it is there. And if there are religions, but you don’t want to make it a focus, maybe your main character is not religious. Or maybe it becomes a source of conflict between the hero and their travelling companion. One suggestion: don’t be preachy. It’s okay for one character to preach at another, but don’t preach to your reader. They won’t thank you for it.

Tip #3: Decide how the people look.

I’m not just talking physical features, though that’s important too. I’m talking about how they dress, how they move. The climate will play a part in this – people in colder regions are typically shorter and stouter while people in warmer areas are thinner and taller. (This is about heat conservation in northern regions, or keeping cool in warmer regions. It’s biological. If you have someone move from a warm region to a cool region, their kids are still going be taller, typically.) Not only height and girth, but in cold places people are more bundled, making for less graceful movements. Clothes are very important to worldbuilding – and not for description purposes (let’s face it, it sucks to spend paragraphs upon paragraphs trying to memorize details of someone’s attire). But if you think about why they wear certain things, you’ve hit a gold mine. If most people in a country wear leather armor, you can assume they are warlike. If they wear fine silks and flowing robes, maybe it is because they are excellent traders and have become very wealthy. Of course, in every culture and country there is wide variation depending on class, occupation, and even religious beliefs.

Okay. So these three steps are going to get you started. Of course there is so much more to think about, but if, like my friend, worldbuilding is not your forte, or is simply new to you, these steps will get you started in the write direction. (I know, written puns never do so well.)

What is your favorite worldbuilding tip?

Take care,

Emily

Intent vs. Action – Is it really the thought that counts?

It’s your birthday. You’ve suffered through a long day of work or school, and finally you’re home. And you’re excited because – presents. So you start tearing into the brightly wrapped packages – only to find a new sweater or package of socks from that one elderly relative (and let’s say it’s a terrible sweater, you hate sweaters, and it’s 100 degrees outside). You’re disappointed. And your mom leans over and whispers, “It’s the thought that counts, sweetie.”

Another story. You just get home from an exhausting day, your significant other is asleep. It’s only 5:00. There is no dinner, the garbage hasn’t been taken out, the pets haven’t been fed. You try to tell yourself that they’ve had a long day too, but you’re angry anyway. And beneath all the anger, you feel hurt. Because if they can’t even try to help out around the house, they can’t possibly love you. When they wake up, you confront them, you tell them how you feel, and they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you.” And you say, “But you did.”

So is it the thought that counts or isn’t it? The first story, the one we’ve all experienced, in one form or another, tells us that yes, the intention is more important than the result. But the second story, which I’m sure just as many of us have experienced somehow, says that the action itself is the more important than the intention. But these are contextual situations. If we take the context away, does intent matter more than action – or the other way around?

Let’s take a look at U.S law. There are different charges for killing based on intent. In fact, if you accidentally hit someone with a car and kill them, they don’t even call it murder. They call it manslaughter. (There’s a whole complicated chain of different charges with killing, this only scratches the surface. So if you are interested, go look it up.) They say the action gets you punished, but the intent determines the punishment.

There are whole other discussions to be had here as well (did someone intend a comment to sexist, or are they just completely unaware? did someone really mean for their terrible driving to make us mad, or are they just oblivious?) but I think you get the point, so I want to get to mine.

When we’re writing, this is something to remember. Sometimes our characters are going to be so hurt and confused by what someone did, they won’t see the good intentions behind it (a betrayal by a friend to keep the character safe, for instance). Other times they are going to forgive based on that same intention. Did their friend really mean to betray them, or were they just trying to help out?

Whether you choose for actions or intentions to be more significant to your character will depend, almost entirely, on the character. And maybe they will fall in the gray zone where some intentions are more important and some actions are more important.

What do you think? Are actions or intentions more important?

Flash Fiction: The End of All Things

One of my earliest posts was about the origins of the world (which is just called “The World”) in which Quest for Salvation takes place. In that post, I mentioned that it came about from a short story that I wrote and fell in love with. I have decided to share that story (it’s really more of a flash fiction) with you. I have edited it a couple of times since I first wrote it. Originally it was going to be included in QFS, and then I decided that it didn’t fit well with the rest of the story, so I took it out. Please let me know what you think!

“The End of All Things”

     In the Dosid Temple, Vahn manipulated the Crystal Grove. Life and light flashed around him, coursed through him. The spiraling colors and constantly shifting brightness of light cast strange, spectral visions about the Grove. Vahn shut his eyes, letting phantom heat sweep through him. An ethereal hum rose in the air, causing the Crystals to reverberate at various pitches. A colored wind swelled through the room, intensifying all sensation.

“Quite astounding, young Vahn,” a grizzled voice praised from behind.

Vahn dropped his hands as his eyes snapped open, the Crystal Grove going dark and silent instantly. He turned and bowed graciously to the elderly man standing just inside the Great Arch.

“Thank you, Master Yonrys.”

“Long has it been since I’ve seen the Grove so alive,” Yonrys sighed wistfully. “We could hear the Song in the Council Chambers tonight.”

Hiding his chagrin behind a mask of politeness, Vahn picked up his robe and shook it out before replying. “I apologize if I have disturbed the Council’s deliberations.”

The old master’s eyes crinkled. “Quite contrary, my boy. They all enjoyed the Grove-Song. And it led them to discuss you.”

“Me, master?” he wondered. “May I inquire as to the reason?”

Yȯnrys gazed pensively about the Crystal Grove, stalling for as long as he could. His eyes lingered at the far window that over looked the hot-houses where food was grown. “The Council of Masters believes that you have been made ready to touch the Godlight.”

Vahn’s face went slack. “The Council… the Godlight?” he repeated, dumbfounded. His attention snapped back to reality. “And you, Master? What do you think?”

The old man’s near-colorless gaze returned to meet his young charge’s. He studied Vahn’s face briefly before answering. “I agree with the Council. You have indeed abundant Talent, and you have become quite skilled at the art of manipulating energy fields. I do believe this is the logical step to take.”

The master’s neutral tone did not prevent Vahn’s gaze from becoming awestruck. “To commune with the Collective… what an opportunity!”

“And a risk,” Yȯnrys asserted sharply. “Do not forget that the Collective are not Men. They see beyond our sight. Not everything They relate is something you will want to hear. There are bones of men driven mad at the bottom of the Rift. I would mourn to see you join their number.”

“Of course, Master. I will remember the risk at my Communion.”

“You are wise beyond your years, boy, and sharper by half than any other Talent-weaver here. I have my Faith in you, young Vahn. Now off to bed with you, tomorrow may just be the longest day in your life.”

“Yes, Master.”

Vahn bowed again to his aged mentor, this time deeper and more sincerely. He then cinched his robe and pulled on a pair of boots before exiting under the watchful, smiling eyes of Yȯnrys.

Vahn willfully kept his pace slow, even though his desire to run was nearly overwhelming. Excessive exuberance was much frowned upon in the mountain monastery. He continued his restrained march out of the Temple complex and across the frozen, snow-covered terrain to the towering pair of dormitories.

Just inside the open archway of the first, and significantly taller, dormitory was a crystal platform, worn smooth by generations of men who, like Vahn, resided in the towering building. The “platform” was merely a hair-thin disc, the cold flagstones completely visible beneath it, though tinged the strangest blue. The Crystal had been taken from the Grove at the time of the dormitory’s foundation to transport those with Talent to the upper levels, insulated and otherwise unreachable.

Vahn stepped unhesitatingly onto the platform and disappeared in a flash of white light and blue sparks. He instantly reappeared on the eighth floor, where he paused to gaze out the window, shielded by the excess Talent leaked by the residents of the floor.

The dormitory was built at the edge of the plateau, seamlessly melding with the sheer cliff-face, dropping hundreds, if not thousands, of feet to the mostly frozen river and the bones of men gone mad. Across the Rift was a vast open plain, as snowy as the plateau that housed the monastery. At the far edge of the plain the mountains rose sharply once again, just as they did everywhere one looked. What was beyond those mountains, Vahn couldn’t begin to imagine. He could only assume it was more of the same; mountains boxing in snow-covered plateaus and frozen rivers, but his only memories were of this isolated monastery within the Dosid Mountains.

Pulling himself from the breathtaking view that had become stale and ordinary, Vahn retreated to his quarters at the far end of the hall. He pushed aside the tapestry that hid his rooms from view and paused on the threshold, a sense of unease clamoring at the back of his mind. He shook his head, dispelling the feeling, and crossed through the small anteroom to his main chamber, and then to the bath-chamber.

In the elegantly carved stone bath, Vahn soaked until the water went cold. When it did, instead of using his Talent to reheat it, he climbed out of the bath and wrapped himself in the same robe that he had worn earlier. Then he re-entered his bed-chamber, but instead of falling on the low bed, he collapsed onto the pile of cushions that he usually reserved for guests. There he remained long into the night, pondering the coming day, until at last a restless slumber claimed him.

~

     Awakened before dawn by a lowly acolyte, Vahn immediately recalled the honor being bestowed upon him. The acolyte stood over him silently, waiting to be acknowledged before speaking.

Vahn glanced at her in minor dissatisfaction. “Yes, yes. Speak already.”

The acolyte bowed respectfully. “The Tenders of the Godlight and the Masters of the Temple wish to express their great respect for the young Lord and beg that you follow the instructions bequeathed to the humble acolyte before you.”

Vahn waved his hand impatiently, his nerves getting the better of him. “And the instructions, acolyte?”

“The Masters beg you follow me to the Bathing House.”

“I can’t bathe in my own chamber?”

“No, my Lord.”

“Very well,” Vahn sighed, pushing himself to his feet. “When do I get to eat?”

“You are not to eat this day, my Lord. You are to fast until after your Communion.”

Vahn kept his irritation in check, but barely. “Very well,” he said again. “Lead on then, girl.”

The acolyte bowed again, stiffer than the first time, and then turned, leading him down the familiar hall and, once on the ground level, out of the dormitory.  The harsh morning wind attacked Vahn with a vengeance. He stared at the acolyte in awe, for though her short hair and robes were tossed wildly by the savage wind, the girl herself seemed unaffected. She led the way quite calmly past the Council Chambers and to the Bathing House. Within the confines of the House, the air was hot and still. Steam hung in around them like fog and water droplets clung to every surface.

The acolyte turned to Vahn, but kept her eyes down. “The Masters beg you to remove your robes and bathe,” she said, softly and quickly. “There are salts at the edge of the pool with which you are to cleanse yourself. Then you are to ascend to the second floor. When you are finished come to the outer room and this acolyte will guide you again.” After relaying the instructions, the acolyte hastened to the outer room of the House, leaving Vahn on his own.

Vahn slipped out of his robes, leaving them in a pile on the floor. He shuffled forward, unable to see the pool he knew was somewhere before him, and fell into the water, plunging into the deep. He surfaced brief moments later and gasped for air. The water was hotter than he’d ever felt it before. He retrieved the scrubbing salts from the edge of the bath and proceeded to cleanse himself. The salts smelled strongly of some unknown herb, similar to the mint that the Cultivators grew in the hot houses.

After he had washed, Vahn climbed out from the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist. He skirted the edge of the pool to the back of the house, where a staircase led to a rarely used second level. Emerging onto the second floor, Vahn saw a Master of the Faith and Scripture standing beside a table filled with needles and tiny bottles of ink.

“What is this, Master?” Vahn asked.

The Master gazed at him steadily. “You are to be marked with the ancient patterns, symbols of your honor and character, and the symbol the Fate gives as a path for your life. Come. Sit.” He gestured to the stool before him.

Vahn advanced warily, glancing with apprehension at the needles.

“You will not feel it,” the master said, catching Vahn’s discomfort.

“The salts?”

“Yȯnrys told me you were clever. Yes, the salts numb the body to pain. Now hold still.”

Vahn sat as still as the mountains themselves as the black and teal inks were applied to his skin in delicate swirls and complex patterns. He tensed as the master inked graceful symbols on his cheek, but the master made no mistakes. It seemed like eons before the master set down the last needle, but still he was not finished.

The man, standing behind Vahn, placed a hand on his head and on his bare back. He began murmuring in an archaic tongue. The words sounded like a prayer – or an incantation. Either way, Vahn felt energy building in the room and when he ended the speech, there was a flash of ice-cold fire across Vahn’s skin.

“The marking is complete,” the master said, stepping away.

Vahn glanced over his shoulder – his back still stung – and saw the barest gleam of gold. He looked down at his torso and saw what the master had not inked. A sparkling crimson flower – something Vahn had never seen in person – on his upper right chest attached to the glowing golden vine, twisting over his shoulder and threaded through the black patterns. The patterns themselves had also changed. Before the incantation the black and teal had been distinctly separate, but they had merged, somehow darker than before, drinking in the light and extinguishing it, but with a strange greenish iridescence.

“What did you do?” Vahn asked.

The master answered an unasked question. “The Crimson Dahlia. Its story is filled with suffering and sorrow. We shall have to see what becomes of its bearer. It is strange that you have been given two marks. Such has never happened in my years, and I doubt in the years of my Master before me. You have a long future ahead of you.”

“You mean you didn’t choose this?”

“The Fate chooses all. Your time here is complete. Go rejoin your guide.”

Vahn stood stiffly, and somewhat shakily, at a loss or words. He understood little of what the master had told him. He retraced his steps to the entrance of the Bathing House, where a ceremonial White Robe waited. He donned the Robe eagerly, smoothing it over his front reverently. Stepping into the outer room, he found the acolyte waiting with her hands clasped behind her back, her feet spread shoulder-width apart.

“My Lord,” she said, bowing yet again. “It is dusk. The time is near, and this acolyte begs you follow in her steps just a short while more.”

“Of course. Lead on,” Vahn said, his excitement returning full force.

The girl turned and once again took charge, this time leading him across the plateau, to the base of the Tower. The Tenders of the Godlight, masters in their own right, stood in a half-circle facing away from the Tower, heads bowed.

The acolyte halted and turned towards Vahn. “Here this humble acolyte must leave you in most Worthy care.” She bowed to him a final time before hurrying back towards the Temple complex.

“Gȯdtrey volüt tran,” the Tenders rumbled in unison. As one their faces rose to the sky. Their eyes were open but unseeing, their hands upheld as if to receive a gift. “Drȯn ta leet, fa ree cyunduer.”

Vahn stood still and silent, unsure what to do. He was about to speak when the Tender in the middle of the semi-circle stepped forward.

“Vessel of the Vine, you have come to take part in the Communion of Souls. The bearer of the Mark has been deemed worthy by earthly minds. May the souls passed before grant passage to the Bearer. Bearer, approach the Godlight, be struck with fear and awe, so that you may become wise and fearless.”

The Tender stepped aside, revealing the base of the Tower. But it was not the base as Vahn knew it. An arch of stones glowed blue-white, and the stones inside the arch appeared almost fluid. Vahn stepped forward and, when no one stopped him, passed through the half-circle of Tenders to enter the tower through the liquid stone.

The stairway spiraled up the walls of the Tower, and Vahn climbed for hours, unaware that time outside the Tower had slowed nearly to a halt. Inside the pitch-black Tower, Vahn kept his right hand against the wall, his left stretched out before him. He could sense, if not see, the great open space in the middle of the Tower. There was nothing to keep him from falling to his death if he lost contact with the wall. But he climbed.

His legs grew leaden, his chest burned, and deep in his mind a strange tingle had begun. Each step cost more energy than the last, each breath sending another dart of pain through his lungs. It was agony.

At last he took a step and out of the darkness materialized another archway, exactly like the one at the base. For a brief moment Vahn wondered why he had not seen it before, but he quickly dismissed the question. The secrets of the Tower were, after all, innumerable.

Vahn stepped through the arch without hesitation and found himself at the very top of the Tower, in the Chamber of the Godlight. Around him the cold wind surged, whistling around the pillars that supported the dome of the Tower. He paid the winds no attention, just as he ignored the magnificent and altogether supernatural view of the Dosid Rift and monastery plateau. His eyes had time only for the mystical Godlight, before him at last.

The Godlight was a Crystal. Vahn didn’t know why this surprised him, but it did. Of course, it was not an ordinary Crystal by any means. The Godlight blazed brighter than any in the Crystal Grove, with an incredible blue-white hue, and with no Talent-weaver to Source it. Or rather, no physical Talent-weaver. The Collective resided, somehow, within the Godlight, and Vahn supposed that They were the Source.

Shaking himself from his awed daze, Vahn reached out to touch the Light…

And was immediately transferred to an intensely bright, glowing place.

He was completely surrounded by pure white light, standing on it, breathing it. He could still feel his body at the top of the Tower, his arm outstretched, his legs shaking with the effort of the climb. But here he was in this brilliant place, as physical as he was in the other.

He had the barest second to comprehend all this before the tingle in his mind erupted into a cacophony of voices.

“So Darkness has come,” a woman’s voice rang out above the others. From the corner of his eye Vahn saw the hem of a skirt, rushing away. He turned, but nothing was there.

“We must not foretell,” a man’s voice resounded, accompanied by a click of a boot. But again when Vahn turned there was nothing, no one.

“The Dark One will steal peace from all, the Dark One will become our fall.” The child’s sing-song rhyme was followed by festive laughter, but there was no one there.

An elderly voice took up the rhyme. “The Dark One wars against the old –”

“Banish we him to the cold!”

“The Dark One ruins his only kin –”

“The Dark One will begin again!”

“Raised in darkness he will destroy –”

“That which he cherished as a boy.”

Vahn spun in a panic, frightened by the angry voices, trying to catch a glimpse of one of the speakers hovering at the edges of his sight.

“No,” he managed to choke out, “no you’ve got it wrong –” But his voice was drowned out by the chorus of souls.

“Eater of Faith! Destroyer of Truth! Eater of Faith! Destroyer of Truth!”

“Eater of Faith!

“Destroyer of Truth!”

“Demon of Taruin!”

“Be gone, Demon!”

“Get out, Destroyer!”

“Your darkness shall not sully our light!”

“Your power shall not cause our destruction!”

“We will NOT bestow our Gifts to the Darkness!”

“You are not welcome, Demon of Taruin!”

Vahn’s true body was flung backwards against the low wall as his consciousness was hurled back into it. The Godlight’s blazing brightness was like a candle against the sun after the World of Light. Vahn was practically blind in the darkness of the night, deaf in its silence.

The gravity of what had happened came crashing down upon him. He had been rejected by the Collective. He had been cursed by the only thing he had ever loved, the only thing that had ever motivated him.

Throughout the Dosid Mountains, throughout all of Taruin, was heard a cry of heart-shattering anguish, augmented by the stolen Talent of every living thing atop the Dosid plateau, dropping each acolyte, master, tender, and student into the unforgiving grasp of death.

Take care, fellow travelers

A Character’s Character

Quick! What is the first thing you think of when I say “character”? Perhaps you think of a fully-formed, though fictional person. Or perhaps you think “a real character” – like a class clown. Or, if you are like me, maybe you think of the six pillars of character* – those moral qualities that make up a person. And that is what this post will be discussing: a character’s morals.

I tend to start by building the superficial bits of a character – how they look, what their name is, and what they do for a living. But as I write, I always find the characters lacking. They aren’t real with just those few bits. They need something to believe in, to stand up for, to drive them through any situation that they might encounter. They need morals.

When I started writing QFS and created the protagonist, Lacey, I started by deciding what she stands for. I gave her a strict belief in the religion of her nation (though she does struggle with it sometimes) and a longing to help others. I developed her character first.

When thinking about a character’s character, there are some important things to keep in mind. What drives them might conflict with their morals. Maybe their morals are skewed, or maybe they simply are lacking in some areas. Look at the 12 archetypes (The Innocent, The Orphan, The Hero, The Caregiver, The Explorer, The Rebel, The Lover, The Creator, The Jester, The Sage, The Magician, and the Ruler) and see if your character could  fit any of them. Try to combine two or even three of the archetypes. Use the six pillars of character (trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship) to create even more interesting characters. Experiment!

Take care, fellow travelers.

*I work in a school, and have been helping our students learn about the six pillars of character for the past couple of weeks.

Opinions

I am an opinionated person. Spend more than a few days around me and you’ll learn this pretty quick. I am not afraid to speak up, speak out, and make myself heard.

Characters need opinions too. They need a stance on subjects that concern their lives. Even if you are writing in a fantasy-feudal world, the characters will have opinions on the queen, on the weather, on the baker or the village over the hill. People are full of opinions, and they can add so much to a story. don’t shortchange your readers – let them see how vivid a world you have created.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Growing a Character

I have been working on my fifth draft of Quest for Salvation. My biggest task has been to make my main character, Lacey Wentwether, less reactive and more proactive. It’s a task. Admittedly, she’s come a long way from draft number one, in which she had very little personality and was, quite honestly, a damsel in distress. She’s grown a lot. She has more internal motivation, a deeper connection to those around her, and a desire to make things better for her best friend, Tomis.

What has happened between the first draft and the fifth? Well, I have read A LOT about character. I’ve got folders full of bookmarks for the articles and I’ve got stacks of magazine articles. I’ve written three other drafts, each time taking steps to give Lacey more personality, more life. And, most of all, I’ve tried to eliminate the cliches from my novel (not that it has entirely worked, but it is MUCH better than before). Beyond this, Lacey has really stepped up. No, she doesn’t talk to me (the way some writers say their characters talk to them) but I know she can handle the increased pressure. She has to – she’s my protagonist.

There are a few things (other than the reading and redrafting) that have helped me expand Lacey. I wrote a prequel to Quest for Salvation. It’s a short thing, only seven chapters long, called Book of Salvation. It ends right where Quest for Salvation picks up (though the time frame is off – she was much younger in the prequel than she is in QFS) and it showed me how she first came to Ruslaht (the capital of the Empire). I know how she met her mentor and teacher Ellison, and I know how she felt about living with her aunt and uncle. I know how she first met Tomis, and I know how grieved she was to leave Ohmlaur. All of this made her more real to me than she’d ever been before.

Another thing I did was start work on book 2 (working title: Scourge of the Daiyen). This way, I saw how the events of QFS led to the future events (not to mention it helped with refining quite a few of the minor characters in book 1). I wrote about the aftermath of everything that had happened and saw how it put a strain on Lacey’s relationships with the others.*

The third thing I did was write the very end of Lacey’s story. I know exactly what it is all progressing towards, and I know how she has to get there now. Which means I know what traits must at least be hinted at that will get her there.

And so, all of this helps in making her the best protagonist she can be.  It’s an exciting journey from damsel in distress to idealistic mapmaker. I hope you have as much fun honing your characters as I do mine!

Take care, fellow travelers.

*I’m being intentionally vague because I hate spoilers, and I know you probably do to.

Beginnings

One of my favorite parts* of writing is starting a new project. I love the thrill of endless possibilities, I love the rush of new ideas, I love the potential. But most of all, I love developing the characters, the plot, and the backstory.

I love backstory. Yes, I know it ought not always be included in the actual plot, but it is my favorite thing to develop. Why, you might ask? Because it all leads to the present.  It’s a twisty, turny path from the beginning of a character’s story (which in my opinion always begins with their ancestors) to get to where the character is interesting.

A couple weeks ago, I was at the beginning of working on my new YA project (title in progress). It takes place in Minnesota (though I might change that to Iowa) so it’s a little different than what I typically write, but it is still technically fantasy. One of the first things I did was develop the main characters. And then, I made the family tree.

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Yes, I get a little carried away. (At least this isn’t the one where I color-coded the different generations!) I like to know where my characters come from. The past is important in shaping who they are, and almost always has an impact on the plot (at least in my stories). Beyond the family tree, I like to have a family history – where they came from, when major events happened, and even some idea of the lives of many of the ancestors.

Maybe I take it too far, but I love the part of history that deals with people. The people are what make any story, fact or fiction, interesting and that is why I take the time to learn the history of a story before I start writing.

What’s your favorite part of the writing process? How involved do you get in creating backstory?

Take care, fellow travelers!

*My other favorite part is, of course, finishing a draft.

Creating Cultures in Fiction

Before I get into this post, I want to let you all know that this will be the last post for a week. I have graduation festivities this weekend and so will be spending lots of time with friends and family – and away from my computer. It’s sort of going to be a technology fast. I am looking forward to it.

Now, I majored in Anthropology, which is the study of human cultures. For me, culture is very important, especially in fiction. If I pick up a fantasy novel, and it is just like all the other fantasy novels (by which I mean it seems to come right from the medieval period – even when it is set in another world) I’m probably going to set it back down. Admittedly there are similar characteristics in lots of fantasy books – magic, foot transportation, castles – but it really irks me when there are only surface descriptors and nothing deeper, nothing to tell readers that this is not medieval Europe, but some strange world that no one has ever heard of. This is where culture comes in.

Culture can make even places that seem similar to wherever we are incredibly different. It’s what makes the world so interesting – so why not make our fictive worlds that interesting too? If you have characters from different places in their world, chances are that they are going to behave differently from one another based on their culture.

But culture can be a hard thing to get a grasp on. We can’t just look at a society and say “There, that’s the culture,” because culture is made up of so many little things. It’s all the quirks and nuances that are important to people, and yet outsiders might not even see them. It’s the big stuff too, like religion and education systems and if people are primarily hunters or farmers or something in between. Culture is hard to pinpoint, and this makes it especially difficult to create a culture for a story.

I am still not done creating the cultures of my World. I don’t think I’ll ever be done – after all culture is something that keeps changing. For the Ibvailyn Empire, I have lots of bits and pieces of their culture, and the overarching tie of their religion, but it still feels like clumps of dirt that will either fall out of my hands or break apart and leave me with new, smaller bits. The problem is, everything has to have a reason. There has to be a legitimate reason why the people who live in the far north don’t eat meat or why the number two is considered evil. In our own lives, we take what we have and don’t really think about the why, but in fiction the why is all there really is.

I keep seeing quotes and posts about how in fiction, there is no such thing as coincidence, because people won’t accept it. There has to be a reason. It’s the same with fictive cultures. There have got to be good, consistent reasons why things are the way they are. Sure, those reasons don’t need to be (and really shouldn’t be) explicitly laid out in the story, but they should be there, somewhere. They should be inside of the characters. Those rules and reasons are what make up the world around them. It’s hard work to do, though.

When I start posting again, I will do a series on the culture of the Ibvailyn Empire. Until then, I’d like to hear what you think about culture in fiction. Do you think it is a valuable part of a story? How do you go about creating fictive cultures?

Take care, fellow travelers.

World Origins

I was sitting in my dorm room during the spring semester of my freshman year. The words flowed like water from my mind to the piece of paper. It was the first short story of my World. The story was about a young man who, overwhelmed by grief and rage, was unable to control his magic and killed everyone around him. I was fascinated by his story and had to know more. But there was nothing else on that desolate mountain-top where his story took place. A mountain-top doesn’t make a world, and I knew that there was more.

I was compelled to create the World around that mountain-top. After all, his story wasn’t over and he couldn’t stay where he was for the rest of his life – that wouldn’t be interesting in the least. And so I began drawing. I marked the Dosid Mountains, and the plains and rivers. A world came about around him. First it was one nation, then one continent. Then there were eight continents in a circle. But it wasn’t done. You see, there were mountains that shot up out of the ocean and split the world in half, keeping the people from both sides from crossing over. The Edges, they are called.

It’s strange, looking back on the very first steps of creating my World, because it never felt like a process when I was doing it. It still doesn’t, when I change things. It feels like my World is already complete, and I just have to learn what it looks like, what its people are like, the customs and histories.

In-story, the origins of the World are, obviously, quite different. My first thought was that some alien species had crashed on the planet and changed it into what they wanted, setting themselves up as gods. But that was too sci-fi for the stories that were and are begging to be written. I brainstormed without realizing that that was what I was doing, constantly writing and rewriting bits of the World’s history so that I could find out where it came from. And then I just knew. I knew that my characters were living in a recreated world, because the first one had been destroyed. And I knew that the people and creatures from that previous world were not entirely gone, and that they were at work in the World still, shaping lives and events to suit them.

The beings from the first world play an integral part in my novel, though my characters don’t know it, and never will. But that doesn’t mean that other characters won’t learn about the first world in other stories.

Those are the origins of my World.

Take care, fellow travelers.

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