A Writing Journey

Posts tagged ‘world-building’

Advanced Worldbuilding

Here we are, deep into worldbuilding. If you’re like me, you are ready to take it to the next level. I’m excited to work on these steps for my next novel (after I finish book 3 of Lacey’s story). Before I get to far ahead of myself though, here are the previous steps to worldbuilding that I’ve discussed in Beginning Worldbuilding and Intermediate Worldbuilding: make maps, think about religion, decide how your people look, language, and politics. If you haven’t read my previous posts, take a gander.

1.History

Every world, every person, has a history. If you haven’t thought about the history of your cities, nations, or world, now is the perfect time to do so. Even if you’ve already written most of your novel, you can look and decide how your people got to where they are. Think of it as learning about their history (much like children learn history in school) rather than creating it. Some questions to ask when discerning the history of your world: who is in power and how did they come to be in power? Who are the minority groups and why are they minorities (are they immigrants or displaced people, or do they have a unique heritage)? Who are the disadvantaged groups of people and why are they disadvantaged?

2.Marriage Customs

That people have partnerships and get married is something we assume in books, for the most part. We read about mothers and fathers, husband and wives. But how did they get to be husbands and wives? Are there complex courting rituals? Do people have elaborate wedding ceremonies? For inspiration here, I suggest looking around at cultures in our world. Not things like “what do they do in Spain,” rather “what do they do in the depths of the Amazon or in the heart of the Sahara.” The more far-flung you get, the more interesting results you will find.

3. Water and food

Farmers are stock characters in fantasy and markets are stock settings. A step further: wagons are stock transportation (unless you are on horseback). We readers can assume that food is grown by farmers and bought by all manner of people – but if you want to get into the nitty gritty details, you should think about how it’s done. Does the government buy crops and resell them? Do people all have their own gardens/herds/flocks for basic needs and sell the excess to others? Do they have a bartering system or, perhaps, it is a communist-esque system where they all share everything equally out of the goodness of their hearts (hello, plot conflict)? And that’s just for food. What about water? Are there wells throughout the city? What happens if the well goes dry? Are there rivers your people can drink from or are the waters dirty? Who is in charge of fetching the water from its source? Who guards it from enemies? All of these things can be significant to the plot, if you let them be. Or they can add realism.

4.Hygiene

Do your people bathe regularly? Where and how? Bathhouses are going to make for different social norms than private baths in homes. (Think open vs. closed, respectful of privacy vs. potentially lecherous.) It also matters because if people bathe regularly, the water system is much more important. Perhaps they build aquaducts in order to supply bathhouses, or perhaps they leave it up to individuals to fetch their own water and therefore they either don’t bathe regularly or have private baths. Do the rich bathe more than the poor? Does this mean water is a commodity?

5.Superstitions

Don’t let a black cat cross your path. Break a mirror and have 7 years bad luck. Don’t walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside. Silly superstitions. And yet we recite them whenever someone does one of those “unspeakable things.” Give your characters some superstitions – things that apply to either them or their society as a whole. Make them convinced all their bad luck is because of X, and either make it so or show their foolishness. Have fun with this one, but if you include it in the actual story, make sure it’s plot relevant.

He’s a black cat, but I don’t think anyone would complain about him crossing their path!

The following are even more things to think about (we can call it expert worldbuilding). Now, I’ll be the first to say I have not effectively gone this far into worldbuilding yet. It’s part of my learning process and part of my next novel, in which I will be writing about a characters in a nation that is recovering from war. Thus, the following worldbuilding considerations will be important.
1.Waste

2.Fires

3.Natural Disasters

4.Wars

5.How are things built? And how are large objects (trees, stone, etc) moved?

Take flight, enjoy, and share any other pieces of worldbuilding you find particularly helpful!

Take care,

Emily

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Intermediate Worldbuilding

Okay, so last week we had a post for beginning worldbuilding that outlined a few of the most important steps for worldbuilding. Those steps were: make maps, think about religion, and decide how people look. This time we are going to go a couple of steps further. For those of you who want to continue past the first three steps (or those of you who are wondering how to proceed or just want some extra ideas), here are two more steps to take your world to the next level.

1. Language.

This doesn’t mean you have to go all Tolkien on us and go study linguistics to make your own fully-fledged language (though if that’s your thing DO IT!). Rather, look at the names of characters and places that you’ve come up with. Say them out loud. What do they sound like? If you’ve got one nation your focusing on, chances are most names are going to have a really similar cadence or feel to them. I’m not saying that everything has to sound the same (because really, we don’t want that), but look at the rhythm and flow of your names. For instance: in Quest for Salvation I have the following city names: Ruslaht, Ohmlaur, and Talahm. Say those out loud. There’s a similarity, and they are all very clearly from one nation. But Frewantin (another city) is obviously from a different part of the world, by the sound of the name alone.

So what about character names? You can keep it simple, like with city names, and have names that just sound like they go together. Or you can take it a step further and create a system for names. For instance, in my novel there is a system for imperial family names; male names start with consonants, female names with vowels, and all imperial names end with the “ay” sound. In addition, names throughout the nation have certain sounds that are more prominent than others (such as “ie” “o” and “n”). You can get as creative as you want with things like this, and it will be sure to give your story that extra layer. Just be sure to write your rules down, and follow them consistently!

One last note: not all countries have to have similar language sounds. In fact, the further apart they are the more different they should be. You  could always have slight differences between neighbors that become huge differences between the nations on either end of the line. Example: if you have a common tongue that people from most or all nations can speak, they will still have names (cities and people and sometimes even special items) in their own language. So someone named Sandrilion can still interact with someone named Crystal, but be from different places.

2. Politics.

It’s important to know what your political system is in your story world, even if you never mention it directly. That’s because whatever is happening at the top has a huge effect on what happens at the bottom. For instance, if there is a political coup and the king is overthrown by his great-niece the duchess of Winderburn, there’s going to be some backlash. People who supported the king are going to have to fall in line fast, or be smart about taking the new queen down. And maybe some pro-king folks will take it on themselves to raid villages in Winderburn, which causes hardship for the farmers there, who suddenly can’t get crops to the trade depot that your character runs, and she has debts from sending her son to a prestigious academy in the capital that has actually been shut down by the new queen, so not only does she have to pay that back to the folks who loaned her the money and her son is back with her so she has to feed him again, but now her trade depot can’t make a profit because the farms are being raided.

Get the idea? Even little political changes can have a big impact on your characters. It’s a trope in mediocre fantasy that “the poor people don’t care what’s going on with the rich,” (and vice versa) but to make your story ring true, the poor should always care, because everything always effects them – you just have to pay a little more attention.

I hope these two worldbuilding tips help take your world and story to the next level. If you have comments or questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below!

Take care,

Emily

 

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

Serial Saturday – Onaemi 1

Welcome to Serial Saturdays, a place where a story comes to life. These are short stories that come together in a whole. Each story will be labeled with the name and the “episode” number. Enjoy, and hope to see you every Saturday!

.:

I was different from the other children. I didn’t know that the night was abandoned on a doorstep. That night is fogged in my mind. I must have been a tot, for the memories are there, though dim. The colors are muted by darkness, the air feels like nothing around me. If I close my eyes and focus, I can feel a hand slip away from mind and a breath of wind against my face. The door opened and a woman exclaimed over me. Her face was hidden so high above, beyond a plump middle bound with a sturdy apron.

She took me to the nearest village the next day. She set me on a blanket while she talked to other tall men and women. They walked away, shaking their heads and averting their eyes. Hot air surged around me. The sun stung my eyes and my skin turned bright red. Dust clogged my nose. I tugged on her skirt and she patted my head. When we went home I carried the blanket for her while she carried the basket she’d brought.

I was ill that second day. Sun-sick, she called it. An ailment that children usually only got from being in the sun for weeks on end. My skin was blistered and sore. She hauled water into the cottage for me, and soaked my sores while humming. She sighed often, and caressed my hair as if she knew me.

When we went out again, she made me wear a hat and stationed me in the shade of a market wall. It was a different village, but the people were the same. They shook their heads, they sighed, they patted the woman on her shoulder. Some of them glanced at me, as if I were a curiosity. I saw children playing, but had no desire to join them. They had no cares or worries.

The Woman took me to three more nearby villages in the next week. From snips of conversations I understood she was looking for someone. Another woman. A mother. Perhaps my mother, but if I’d had one she had left me. That I knew for certain. I heard the adults whisper about a killing in the hills, and she wondered who could do such a thing. Another long day, hot day ended when we arrived to her cottage.

Wind swept over me and I looked up at the touch. A shadow-shape was already high in the sky again. The woman ushered me into her home, a wary glance cast up. She muttered about dragons, about the dangers they brought. She fed me and put me to bed. I don’t remember that she ever spoke directly to me, but around and over and about me. I was content to follow her, to let her discuss me.

She took me somewhere new the next day. Not a village, but a quiet stone room, with a smaller room inside. It was dark, but there was a hole in the ceiling to let a shaft of light in. It smelled like dirt and smoke. A tall man met us, and took me into the inner room. He lit a fire and asked me to tell him what I saw in the flames. I looked, I saw. I don’t know that I spoke, but I told him and he said not to tell anyone else, but to keep the fire-sight my own and uncorrupted. He took me out to the woman, he told her to take me home, to keep me safe, and to bring me back if she needed to. Their whispers floated through and past me without my understanding.

The woman took me home. She had me stand in the middle of the room and took my measurements. Then she stooped down to look me in the eyes. She told me I was home, and she named me Niece.

***

Thanks for reading, fellow adventurers! I hope you enjoyed. Please let me know what you think, and please come back next time!

The picture was found via Pinterest, and the link to it’s site was broken. Thus if you are the owner or know who the owner is, please let me know!

Reading

I used to really love reading.   Don’t get me wrong,  I still do,  but these days I struggle to turn off my writer part and just enjoy a story. I’m always thinking about better ways to phrase a sentence,  always catching the bits that speak directly to the reader rather than the characters. Does one character really need to specify that a certain person lives next door,  when the person they’re talking to already knows that?  No.  That is information only for the reader,  and not necessary.  To me,  it clutteres the story and makes it difficult to focus on what’s actually happening.

I’m sure all of that is a personal preference. I’m sure some people enjoy that kind of world-building. I like a different kind of world-building. I like to feel the dirt and see the colors and be swept away – not given minute details that all of the characters already know.  Let me figure that out on my own,  or if it’s really important find another way to tell me. Think Robin Hobb, and you’ll have an idea of what I mean.

But I think the world-building I like is in the minority and the more I read the more I’m disappointed. Where are the stellar books that I used to read?  Are the reviews really reading about this book that keeps cluttering itself? Is it just me,  or are most books these days poorly crafted, no matter how intriguing the story?

Obviously there have got to be books out there that meet my standards (which are,  I suppose,  ridiculously high), but sifting through the other books is exhausting and,  quite frankly,  disheartening.

Reading has become a struggle for me,  and I don’t know how to fix it.

Have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts on the state of books today?

Take care.

Confession Time

As you might have guessed from the title, I have a confession. I never got around to sending out my manuscript. With all the chaos of moving it slipped my mind. After having let the story rest I came back to it and realized I still had a lot of work to do before sending it out. Most of the work is on dialogue and chronology. In addition, I am going through and rewriting to include more “showing” rather than telling, and to develop the world and the characters more fully. This will take some time, and it doesn’t help that my perfectionism is coming out now. So please bear with me as I continue rewriting, and hopefully I will be motivated enough to get this done within a couple of months.

Take care,  fellow travelers.

What I’ve Learned About Writing From Pokemon

I admit, I am a huge nerd when it comes to Pokemon. I was in a trading card league when I was a kid, the first video game I ever had was Pokemon Yellow, and yes, I still play the games.* I recently got White 2. If you know anything about Pokemon, you know about regions. Regions are sort of like states or territories and, as of this new game I got, there are sixteen regions in the Pokemon world (though only five are in the main games). This new game takes place in the same, albeit expanded, region as a previous game. To me , this expansion was the greatest gift the creators could give. Why? Because I love exploring new things in familiar places.

This is as true for writing as it is for gaming.  As a reader, I love stories that take place in one world, but different parts of that world. This is the reason that I’ve developed the world in which Quest for Salvation is set to the extent I have: because there is always something new to explore. I love the thought that, even if you think you know everything about a place, something new can happen and suddenly you aren’t so knowledgeable (and I just have to say, that word looks like it shouldn’t exist). Sure, it can be disorientating and scary, but once you push that fear away, it’s a whole new exciting world.

In the Pokemon games, you can explore new places as you advance in your skill. This is like writing in that as you become a more practiced writer, you have new ideas, you expand old ideas, and you can experiment with new styles or genres. Each time I try something new, I feel a rush of excitement and readiness for the next step.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from Pokemon? You aren’t always going to win. Sometimes I have massive failures in the games and I get frustrated. It’s the same with writing. When I have writer’s block or completely ruined the perfect scene by writing it down, I get frustrated with myself. Okay, let’s be honest, I get pretty darn angry. BUT! I keep going. In Pokemon I don’t give up after one loss, so there is no reason to give up on my story. After all, I can fix the writing more easily than I can train my Pokemon to higher levels.

Here’s the thing: don’t give up. No matter what your dream is, don’t give up. In Pokemon the dream is to become the Champion. In writing, it is to be published. Maybe you want to be an actor or a politician or an artist. Go for it. You can do it.

Take care, fellow travelers.

*I’m even writing a Pokemon fan-fiction with one of my best friends. At least I know I’m not the only one who still loves Pokemon 🙂

Reclaiming Fantasy Afterword

In all my writing on this series, I learned a valuable lesson: I don’t always follow my own advice. I use the cliches that I warn against, I craft my characters in stereotypical molds, I create bland, interchangeable settings. Everything I warned against, I’ve learned by doing. I’ve been questioning why I do the very things I say not to. My answer is: it’s complicated.

See, I love the cliches. I really do. In television at least. I like the shows and movies that are entertaining but have that typical character or plot or setting or whatever*. And sometimes I incorporate the cliches into my writing. And you want to know something? That’s okay. For a first draft at least.

A lot of my advice in this series was about things we should change or work on. But we’ve got to have something to work with first. We’ve got to know the basics of our stories before we can fix it. So write the first draft however you want and then worry about the cliches and stereotypes. You can try to do it all at once, but that might just discourage you. I know it would discourage me. First drafts are allowed to be – supposed to be – awful. Not in the sense that the story has no potential, but in that they have significant room for improvement.

I’m not advocating to purposefully write bad first drafts. What I suggest is writing without listening to anything outsiders are saying. Just get the story down. Then, while it is resting, explore the advice of others and apply it when you rewrite.

You want to know something else? Sometimes I write, just for me, and in those stories I have cliche after cliche. It’s comfortable, and comforting, to write that way sometimes. And guess what. All of the stories that I have shared with others started as a “just for me” project, filled with cliches and terrible prose. Because my goal in writing is to get the story out of my head (though as soon as I start writing it just gets deeper in my mind) and I don’t care if someone thinks it’s awful. It’s the story in my mind.

So. Write how you want to write, and then work on making it better. It’s a long process, but I fully believe that it is worth it.

Take care, fellow travelers.

*These shows are by no means my favorite, though.
If you missed any of the series Reclaiming Fantasy, follow the links below!

Reclaiming Fantasty – Part 1, Introduction

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 2, The Setting

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 3, Characters

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 4, The Plot

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 5, Magic

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 6, The Villain

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 7, Hero or Heroine

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 8, Series

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 9, Weapons

Reclaiming Fantasy – Part 6, The Villain

In fantasy, villains are often depicted as power-hungry, evil sorcerers (I’m picturing Jafar, in Aladdin). In most fantasy, there is no real motivation – the villain is just intent on destruction. There are issues with that. First off, a good character needs motivation. Yes, they may be the antagonist, but they can still be well-written. Second, generally speaking, people have a drive for self-preservation. If a villain is trying to destroy the world, what do they get out of it? Are they going to be destroyed right along with the world? I don’t think many villains are willing to go that far, and definitely not in an intriguing story.

So what is a villain’s motives? That is always a hard thing for me to come up with. In the beginning, I am much more likely to have a villain-caricature than a well fleshed-out bad-guy (or gal). And you know what? That is okay. In the beginning, things don’t have to be perfect, they shouldn’t be perfect. The task is to develop that caricature villain into something better. Motive is, in my opinion, the best way to do this. Build the back-story. Why does your villain have a beef with the MC? Why does the villain want to gather all the power to her/himself? Let’s take a step beyond “because as a child they were abused/neglected/etc.” and think a little more.

Think about Regina, from Once Upon A Time. Admittedly, I think the writers/producers could have played up her circumstance more and made it more intriguing. Regina became evil in order to escape her mother’s power. She didn’t mean to become evil, she just did. And guess what, she keeps messing up. And so no one will give her a chance to be good again, even though she is clearly at war with herself.

Motivation tells us a lot about our villains. I am in the process of rewriting my WIP, mainly because my villain was not strong enough. How am I addressing it? By adding motivation.

Another point that Nick over at Fictioner’s Net brings up is that the bad-guy needs morals. Sure, they can break their guidelines, but they have to start with them in place. You can read the article here.

My second point was that people have a drive for self-preservation. It may be better to give the villain the goal for control or causing the other characters the most pain and heart-ache possible. For goodness sake, don’t let your villain have a goal of hurting others and then make dramatic, and stupid, decisions that endanger him/herself. The villain is going to protect him/herself.

If your villain really wants to destroy the world, give them a good reason. Make sure that their psychology lines up with their actions. Check out the 12 common archetypes and use them to your advantage when creating your villain.

Don’t let the villain risk everything just to destroy everything – risking everything is the protagonist’s domain.

Take care, fellow travelers.

Ibvailyn Culture Part 3

It’s been a while since I posted about Ibvail’s culture. In case you don’t remember or are new to my blog, Ibvail is the nation that most of my characters in my WIP (Quest for Salvation) come from. I have written about the origins, evolution and magic of the world that I’ve created (you can find the posts by clicking on the links). I have written specifically about Ibvail as well. I have posts about religion, language, and a series on Ibvailyn history.

Now that you’re all caught up, let’s talk some more about the culture!

In Ibvail, scars and body modifications are considered unsightly. Even among soldiers, scars are a shame and hidden. This stems from their religious belief of non-violence. Thus evidence of wars and battles (scars being part of this evidence) was hidden as a blotch on the nation’s conscience. Over the years, this distaste for battle scars morphed into distaste for scars in general, no matter how a person got them.

A Priestess of the Path, having come into power in the Holy City, declared that not only were scars shameful, but any change that people made to their own bodies was an affront to the Path. She said it took away from the Oneness of all, to make the self different. Thus she rejected any means of changing the body, be it by tattooing, piercing, dying hair or even shaving. It did not take long for her teaching to catch on. In the cold climate of Ibvail, most people already ignored shaving for most of the year, and few people were involved in tattooing or piercing.

The Priestess’s teachings created a barrier between Ibvail and their neighbor, Salvyn, as the Salvynites frequently modified their bodies with tattoos and piercings. This barrier was important when Ibvail became an Empire and began taking territories as their own – it was a rallying point that the “heathens” did not know what it was to be One, as evinced by their practice of scarring themselves with ink.

In Ibvail, scars are hidden or covered, and no one speaks of them. People who have lost limbs (or even sight or hearing) are regarded as less than others and often hidden away by family.

Take care, fellow travelers.

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