The world in which your story takes place is just as important as the characters. For the most obvious example, take J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth – if the characters were setting off across New York City or the land of Oz, the story would have been much different. Instead of contending with Orcs and evil wizards, they would have been attacked by muggers or flying monkeys. They would have wandered into Times Square and gotten stuck in traffic on their way to dropping the ring of power into… the Hudson Bay. A cowardly lion would have teamed up with them in the woods.
World building can be a big task, but it doesn’t need to be – it all depends on the genre in which you’re writing and the length. A novel or other longer work of fiction needs more detail, where a short story can leave out the most minute details and focus more on driving the story to the end. Here are a few examples of the different types of world building.
Realistic Past / Pseudo-Realistic Past
A story set in the middle ages, which may or may not involve imaginary elements such as dragons, wizards or fairies. This type of world building requires research if you want it to seem realistic and true to history. Look into how people lived during the time period – how they spoke, what they wore, what they did in their day-to-day lives. Conduct as much research as you can before you start throwing in your own elements. Many people enjoy stories that are true to history, because it makes them feel as if they are looking back on something that could have actually happened.
Realistic Modern / Pseudo-Realistic Modern
Genres such as legal thrillers and medical dramas depend entirely on being as realistic as possible. You don’t want to make a mistake with a law or disregard any small medical detail. The small details here are extremely important, and you will really need to do your homework. The characters have to live by these rules as much as you and I, and the plot depends on these rules. Pseudo-realistic stories have to live by these rules, even if there are things like ghosts or vampires involved. If there is one thing in the plot that doesn’t make sense or follow these basic logical rules, the reader will notice and the credibility of the story will be damaged.
Realistic Future / Pseudo-realistic Future
Since the future hasn’t happened yet, you have more freedom in your world design. If you want the readers to be riveted, however, you will still need some element of realism. If the the future setting is the future planet earth, tie in the present (or past) with the future and explain how things ended up this way. What was going on when the aliens invaded? When did this catastrophic war take place and why? What kind of chaos took place after the major civilizations were overthrown? The best way to come up with realistic explanations for events that haven’t happened yet is to look back at similar historical events.
Of course, you have the most creative freedom if you are building your world from scratch. With this kind of freedom comes more work. Everything that exists in your world has to be thought up by you – the different cultures, special animals and plants, languages, history and legends, etc. This takes time and plenty of brainstorming. It’s not something you can rush, because things will come to you when you’re doing other things, like taking a shower or trying to fall asleep at night. As long as you’re not dripping wet, reach for a pen and paper so you can jot down these ideas.
As long as you pay attention to real events and history, these ideas will come to you fairly easily. There’s that thing called reality again, even when you’re making up your own world. You will find that logic is important in any type of story, even ones that are completely made up.
If the setting is another planet somewhere else in the galaxy, you would have to think about the ecosystem and atmosphere of this world. To sustain life (assuming some kind of intelligent life form lives there to carry out your story), the planet has to have a certain temperature range and liquid water, especially if these aliens are similar to humans. Maybe these creatures developed an environment, like a “bio-dome,” because their planet was becoming too inhospitable? Science has a major role to play in many stories.
Reality can be pretty interesting. Take your favorite historical events and ask yourself why you find them so interesting. Which historical figures spark your imagination and why? When you break them down, you can figure out how to incorporate these elements into your world or plot. Here is a simple excersize to help you with this:
Jot down your favorite historical event at the top of a piece of paper or word file.
Write down “what,” “who,” “when,” “why” and “how,” each on a new line. Answer these basic questions as if you are a reporter, and keep your answers as short and to-the-point as possible.
Be sure to answer these questions, especially – what led up to this event? What resulted from it? What could have resulted from it if it had gone a different way?
Finally, write down exactly why you find this particular event so interesting. What elements spark your interest?
This excersize would have gotten your ideas going and gave you some more insight into what you value in a good story. The more you value your own story, the better.
Here is a similar excersize for a historical figure, who might provide the basis for a major character in your story and your world:
Write the name of your favorite historical figure at the top of a page.
Write down “Origins” on the next line down and briefly explain where they are from and a little background. On the next line, write down some of their winning personality traits. What made them famous and what fascinates you about them?
Add their weaknesses below the winning traits.
What did they accomplish in their life?
Fill out a profile like this for every historical figure or event that you find interesting and keep them in a “World Building Folder”. Trust me, you’ll need a binder or at least a single subject folder to hold all of the information involving your story/stories, your imaginary world or all of the research you’ve done.filed under: Fiction, Writing Advice & Inspo ||| leave a comment?
I wrote this a loooong time ago (around 2003) when I was getting busy with setting up my own domain with a blog for the first time. There are some old references like “tagboards” (anybody remember those?!) and the dreaded “wall of shame” — where you were named and linked on someone’s site if you were caught stealing their stuff. Ah, the old days. Aside from those things, this is still pretty relevant.
Caution: Sarcasm and snark to follow. Meant to entertain and enlighten.
And here you are, oh great unoriginal one! You’ve come to my site to see what you can raid. You have no intention whatsoever of giving me credit for things you’ve used, and you have only left a comment on my blog/guestbook/tag-board with some absent-minded remark for a free link back to your site. You might not be dumb enough to steal bandwidth, but you DID make your layout 99% similar to someone else’s, and a mishmash of content that 30 other sites made, to make yourself look creative and smart. You feel so accomplished after all that copying and pasting! What’s that? Even your “About Me” section isn’t really you? Sure, we can change a few words. THAT is customization! Let’s go look at everyone else’s .CSS and see how much we can make your site look like theirs! Brilliant! Don’t forget to state that if you find anyone stealing your work, that you will come over to their house and murder them. After all, that copying and pasting was exhausting. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to pick out someone else’s button/banner that you like, fudge out their name and put your own? Like anyone will care about some little button… and don’t forget to use those brushes you got from a well know brush distributor and smatter your layout with them. You’re offering graphics you’ve “made” and can’t even give credit to the one who made the brushes. Suddenly you find yourself hounded by those people you stole from, and can’t figure out why you’re on everybody’s “wall of shame”. Scratching your head in bewilderment, you go back to copying and pasting. “Phew!”
*Slams on the brakes*… You know you’ve seen someone like this. Its a mystery as to how someone with a conscience can do all that and think they have a right to it. Why would you want to look and be like everyone else, anyway? Stylish and pleasing to the eye are completely different from just COPYING. Show your own talents and creativity! Let your site/content reflect who you are!filed under: Freelance Writing, Thoughts on Stuff, Writing Advice & Inspo ||| leave a comment?
“The desire to write grows with writing.” – Desiderius Erasmus
“You can. You should. And if you are brave enough to start, you will.” – Steven King
“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” – E. L. Doctorow
“If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.” – Derek Walcott
“Writing only leads to more writing.” – Sidonie Gabrielle
“Don’t get it right, just get it written.” – James Thurber
“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.” – Lord Byron
“I advise writing to oneself. If you don’t want to read it, nobody else is going to read it.” – S. E. Hinton
“There is a book in you that only you can write.” – Chris Baty
“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” – Anaïs Nin
“If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.” – Anaïs Nin
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” – Anton Chekhov
“It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page.” – Joan Baez
“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” – Henry David Thoreau
“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” – Isaac Asimov
“Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder.” – Raymond Chandler
“One must be drenched in words, literally soaked in them, to have the right ones form themselves into the proper patterns at the right moment.” – Hart Crane
“To gain your own voice, forget about having it heard. Become a saint of your own province and your own consciousness.” – Allen Ginsberg
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” – Ernest Hemingway
“If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.” – Ernest Hemingway
“I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.” – Doris Lessing
“You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London
“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.” – Virginia Woolf
“However great a man’s natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once.” – Jean Jacques Rousseau
“Two hours of writing fiction leaves this writer completely drained. For those two hours he has been in a different place with totally different people.” – Roald Dahlfiled under: Writing Advice & Inspo ||| leave a comment?
November is almost over (also known as the month of hell by some writers and non-writers alike) and by now, you might have close to 50,000 words of baby novel. If you’re like me, you might be looking at it with sideways eyes, not sure what the hell is going on or if you even want to finish it. Maybe it’s time to get a second (third! fourth! fifth!) opinion? Other people reading your work-in-progress can offer some priceless advice, and even inspire you.
Every writer needs a brain trust. I like this term better than “group-of-friends/trusted-writers-who-can-give-you-constructive-criticism.” According to Wikipedia –
The term is most associated with the group of advisers to Franklin Roosevelt during his presidential administration. More recently the use of the term has expanded to encompass any group of advisers to a decision maker, whether or not in politics.
Who do you ask to read your stories or other creative pieces after you’ve written the first draft? Also, where do you draw the line between following another person’s advice and following your own creative pull?
After you’ve written something that you think has publishing potential, one of the first things you should do is put it away for a few days to a week, maybe longer. You might feel differently about the story after some time has passed. You’ll find things in the story that you want to change, or you’ll notice minute details that need tweaking. You’ll most definitely find typos, missing words or double-typed words. Your piece is ready to meet your brain trust once you’ve done some polishing.
If you don’t know any other writers in person, there are forums and other sites where other writers and avid readers will be happy to review your writing for free. Writing.com is one that I’m familiar with. I’ve gotten some great feedback and invaluable help from people who took the time to write detailed reviews.
If you’re lucky enough to know someone who is truthful and knows good writing when they read it, then hand it over to them. Hand it over to several different people and ask for their opinions.
The advice you use from these reviews is up to you, but if you’re not sure what to do, here are some loose guidelines:
~ Sometimes something you write might make sense to you, but not to someone else.
~ If you have a solid reason for something in the story that doesn’t make sense to someone, try explaining your reasoning within the story without intruding on the flow of the story.
~ If the sentences are choppy or do not flow, it can disrupt the story. You might only need to break up the sentences or connect a few very short ones. If a few of the sentences are short for dramatic effect, leave them them that way. Follow your gut in these instances. In general, the sentence structures and lengths should vary from sentence to sentence.
~ Maybe you made your prose a little too flowery — If you get this complaint, ask yourself if it matches the drama of the situation. Flamboyant writing or pretentious words in a mundane scene or situation might make the reader feel like you’re trying to compensate.
Sometimes you might have something great on your hands, but you’re so caught up in the creation of it (and making sure it’s as awesome as possible) that you can’t see how great it really is. I’ve written things in the past that I didn’t think were that good, and then a few months later I’ll revisit it and be all “What was my problem? This is isn’t too shabby…”, but there’s always room for improvement.
Have anything to add about the revision process?filed under: Writing Advice & Inspo ||| leave a comment?