Creating Worlds of Wonder (2 of 3)

In the last post of this series, I discussed the rules of about world-building. In this post, I will discuss how those rules are applied into actual tools and what said tools consist of.

First, why have these tools to begin with? For one thing, it will help you maintain a level of consistently. Not every author can keep track of every alien/foreign element in their world. The stranger you have something referred to using oddly spelled-out words, the harder it gets to keep all of it straight. For example, in my portal fiction, Fallen From the Stars, the elves referred to marriage as the “reading of their oaths.” They don’t have the words “married” or “marriage” (though the humans from the valley do). I have to have this written down somewhere because I have other cultural references, greetings, salutations, etc I need to keep track of. So there are two tools that you’ll commonly come across to help you keep all of this in good working order—the story bible and the glossary.

  1. Overview of the world
  2. Primary Religions / Gods
  3. Special Geographic Locations (floating islands, etc)
  4. General System of Magic
  5. The Races and Cultures (orcs, gnolls, humans, elves, etc.)
  6. Individual Nations
    1. Nation One
      1. Culture
      2. Politics / Government
      3. Special Laws / Taboos / Customs
      4. Special Notes
    2. Nation Two, etc…
  7. Special Terms / Terminology
  8. Technological Levels
    1. Medicine
    2. Warfare
    3. Transportation
    4. Communication
  9. Special Artifacts (magic swords, rings, crowns, etc.)
  10. Historical Timeline (go as far back as need to)

The story bible is more than just an outline (though it can contain it). It is the author’s comprehensive system of how their entire world works. It’s a behind-the-scenes toolkit that details the magic system, the religions, cultural nuances, nations, geography, races, all the way down to curse words to the name of the world/universe itself. It is as detailed as you need it to be (key word: need). When crafting your fantasy world or world that uses some form of mystical elements, take the time to put some effort in it. Start with a big overview, then work your way down like this:

As you can see, we can get quite detailed on just the list alone. An article I read some years ago (don’t quote me though) about Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is that his story bible was as thick as one of his books. If you’re not familiar with his work, his series was fourteen big books weighing close to an average 1,000 pages.

Now the important caveat is you should only create what you need to completely tell your story in its entirety. If you wrote out your outline for all six of your books and you never have your characters go to the nation of Ko-Astera, never interact with the djinn-like humans who live there, never use a Fire Summoner in your stories, don’t spend a lot of time detailing that nation and everything within it. The same with Conjuration magic. If you don’t have anyone who is a Pact-Binder with a demon from the Eternal Abyss, you don’t need to detail this system of magic.

Will you be laying this out to your reader in your books? I hope not unless it’s critical to your story. But if your characters are following the rules you outline in your story bible, your reader will note the consistency and detailed world-building. They will appreciate that—greatly (assuming your readers like world-building).

There are many articles on world-building and building your story bible. I (personally) hate most of them, because they are very generic. If you want an actual live example, there are books that give just that to you. They are called campaign guides or campaign settings. If you ever played Dungeons and Dragons or similar table-top rpgs, you’ll be familiar with what a campaign setting is. Video game guides to popular fantasy worlds are also great resources and examples. Essentially, they are the “story bible” for the game master to run such games that keep everything in a logical manner. Some of them are quite detailed and beautifully written. Here is one of my favorites, though it’s nowhere close to comprehensive:

Pathfinder Campaign Setting

The second type of resource is a glossary. This is for your reader. It goes at the beginning or at the end of each book of your series and pretty much is what you’ll use as your own story-bible. Whatever is in the glossary is all you’re using to tell your story. It’s a “story bible lite” per se. This is great if you don’t have a lot of different detail in your world, such as an urban fantasy set in modern day Seattle, but you just need to advise the reader of the different names of werewolf clans, their powers, their blood magic, and their weaknesses.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what do when you run into problems. Until then, happy writing!

Why Beta-Readers and Critical Feedback Matters

You finally finished your first draft of that novel! It took you months, maybe years, but you did it! Congratulations, bucko. Treat yourself to a double-shot peppermint mocha with whip cream and chocolate sprinkles.

While your sipping on your eight dollar drink, you crack open your laptop, run your novel through a spellchecker, send it off to an editor, get it back, and then upload your work on Amazon.

You generated interest for your book through your newly minted mailing list, conducted a well-marketed launch party, sent out dozens of ARCs to reviewers, and overall felt a great sense of pride. You buy yourself another mocha.

Until the reviews start coming in…

“This plot made no sense. 1/5 stars.”

“I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me. I even begged customer service.”

“Seriously? Reading should be considered an Olympic sport because I just broke world records after reading this crap.”

“I need bleach for my eyes.”

You had planned a whole series with at least six books. You don’t buy yourself a third mocha, but a bottle of whiskey this time and you don’t drink.

One of the activities I like to do when I hear about an “up-and-coming” hot author is read the well-written negative reviews first. Why? Because they point out all the serious problems the book had, but it offended the reader so much they had to give the work 1 or 2 stars. The comment, “I would give this 0 stars, but Amazon won’t let me” is so commonly written, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a meme somewhere.

So, let me ask you? Would you have like to have gotten those negative reviews in the form of feedback instead of actual reviews?

Enter the alpha and beta readers.

There are several types of critiques you’ll need to perform on your work before it’s ready for publication or submission.

The first is self-edit. If you hate the editing process, you need to either endure it or learn to love it. After you finish your work, set it aside. Dragon Soul Press has blogged in the past to set aside your work about two weeks for a full novel. This will give your brain a break from your work, purge your thought processes about your book and then when you go back to it, you have a fresh mindset. You will find a ton of errors. As you read your own work, you realize you may have missed certain elements and issues. Get those fixed.

Another option is to utilize an alpha-reader, but these people are completely optional. Some authors use them quite religiously. I don’t. An alpha-reader is there to critique your work as you write it. You finish Chapter 4, you run it through spell-check and then shoot it off to them. But your overall work is not finished. The alpha-reader helps you with grammar and then checks for things like pacing, characterization, tension, etc. Create a questionnaire for your alphas or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. Then you can go through and address the comments one-by-one to tighten up the story as it comes to light.

After the alpha-reader is the beta-reader. You should always have these people ready in the wings to review your work. After you’ve completed your first draft, ran it through the spellchecker and/or Grammarly, these readers will evaluate your overall story for plot, tension, pacing, POV, characterization, climax, hook, etc. The primary goal of both the alpha and beta-reader is to point out problems. It’s okay to get praise, but if someone reads a full-length novel from you and they found no problems, they didn’t do their job. You’re not that good. I’m not good. Stephen King is not that good! If you write a full-length novel, you should have at least six to a dozen betas reviewing.

As with alphas, you can create a questionnaire for your betas to fill out or allow them to comment directly on your WIP. After you have received all their comments, go through and evaluate them, fixing the errors they’ve pointed out.

Some authors will employ as many as fifty reviewers. That’s great if you can get that many, but expect a lot of work if all of them point out fifty separate things for you to work on. Some authors will also go through a second or third round of beta-readers too and I knew one guy who was working on his fifth round of beta-readers. If you’re a well-established author, a second round would be helpful, but anything else beyond that is likely to put you through analysis-paralysis–a common term among day traders who overthink a situation instead of making the trade.

You will not eliminate every 1-star or 2-star review, but you will mitigate many of them if you utilize proper methods for obtaining feedback.

Happy writing!

Creating Worlds of Wonder (1 of 3)

Here, we discuss world-building. If you’re a writer in fantasy, horror, and science-fiction, you have to do a little world-building which is establishing the setting, rules, and workings of the environment your characters live and interact with.

For example, your story takes place in a kingdom ruled by a young queen who has reached her fifth birthday. A convent of regents “advise” her on important decisions, but she gets to have the peasants beheaded almost every day while eating a big slice of cake. Now, I made that up on the fly, but as the characters interact living in this kingdom, how do they go about their lives while living in such a place?

So, for Part 1 of 3 regarding world-building, we will focus on the “rules” (guidelines mostly):

  1. Be consistent. This is a definitely a rule, unless your story is a tongue-in-cheek comedy about inconsistency. Every other type of story, you need to be consistent. If you establish that fire mages cannot wield water spells, don’t have a scene where a fire mage is casting a water spell unless you have a very good reason for breaking the rule. If you’re not consistent in your world-building, you’ll confuse your readers, who have to stop and ponder what it was they read, figure out how to make their own connection, and if they are dissatisfied, they will leave you a bad review or quit your book.
  2. Create what you need. This is a guideline, but a good one. I read an article a long time ago that Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, created a story-bible (all the detailed notes on how his world worked) that is as thick as one of his books (it was over 1,000 pages). Now, it was evident he needed all of it to write and plan out his series (which ended up being fourteen large books), but if you plan out your book and it only takes place in a small barony, you don’t need to create detailed notes of the government of a kingdom on the other side of the continent. In my book, Fallen From the Stars, the entire setting is in the elven village. I had notes on all ninety-eight elves who lived in the village, a map of the village, but beyond that, I have a few general notes of the barony and the kingdom, and some general notes on magic and religion.
  3. Reveal through dialogue. People like Robert Jordan, GRR Martin, and Tolkien crafted incredibly rich-worlds and they painstakingly took their time to explain the workings of the world to the reader; however, just as many people who loved it, there are just as many critics who hated it calling it info-dumping. Info-dumping is you, as the narrator, explaining parts of your world to the reader prior to getting to any dialogue, in between scenes, or after a scene has concluded. A more viable way to explain your world is through dialogue. JK Rowling did this 99% of the time in Harry Potter. Harry, being ignorant of the wizarding world, would ask a very innocent question, and someone would take the time to explain to him on how it works. What made it fun would be Harry’s reaction afterward. In Fallen From the Stars (my novel), the main character is a human from our world, so the elves explained to him how things work around the village.

    Use this method with a bit of caution. There is a reason why Robert Jordan chose to info-dump as opposed to revealing through dialogue in that all his characters were very knowledgeable of the world around them. In would have been unrealistic for Matrim Cauthon to be approached by Moiraine Damodred and he asks her, “What’s an aes sedai?” and she replies, “We cast spells, manipulate politics, the Reds have men issues, and crap.” Matrim knew what an aes sedai was and he lived in a very backwater rustic village in the middle of nowhere, so Jordan established that even the rustics possessed knowledge of the world around them.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss the tools you can have at your disposal to build and maintain your world while crafting your series, and then in the follow-up, how to fix problems that are created when you need (or want) to create inconsistencies.

Happy writing!

 

Staying Motivated to Write

Being a writer is hard work. An experienced writer will have a ton of ideas raging through their head, several works in progress at any one time, social media updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, their website to maintain, their own blogging, etc.

You, on the other hand, are new. You’re just trying to write and finish that one book, but you keep running into motivation problems. How do published authors do it? How do they keep themselves going day-in, day-out? Here are some tips:

1. Avoid Burnout – don’t write every day. You constantly hear this piece of advice, “Write every day.” DON’T. I personally have found the people that scream the most are wannabe authors. Let me ask you: are you supposed to exercise every day? No. Why? Because you risk injury to your muscles from over-exercising. Writing is the same way. In addition to that bad case of carpal tunnel, you wear yourself out by constantly thinking in pushing a story through instead of giving your brain time to absorb and think about what you wrote. You’ll burn yourself out. Give your brain a day off.

2. Set realistic expectations. Successful authors set goals for themselves that are attainable. One of the things I’ve seen new authors flame out is because they possessed unrealistic expectations. They got a really awesome idea for a book. They may even plot out the whole thing, did character sheets, created a small story-bible of how magic, religion, and how the world works, and then after writing a couple of chapters, they are done. Why? They had an image of them writing their novel in 30 days or maybe writing 3,000 words a day, but they didn’t come anywhere near that. Second, the “honeymoon” with the novel’s plot wears off and now begins the tedium of actually writing out the story. Writing is an endurance sport.  If you’re trying to cut your teeth in this field, start small. Practice. Dragon Soul Press offers opportunities for new authors to submit short stories around six times a year.

https://dragonsoulpress.com/anthologies/

3. Read about the learning the craft. On your “days off,” read blogs or watch YouTube videos about writing. There are many talented people out there. If you read or watch them, you’ll find yourself inspired.

4. Good feedback pushes you closer to the goal! What separates an amateur from a professional author is their ability to handle criticism or whether they ask for it. An amateur won’t solicit for criticism on their work or when they do, they expect glowing praise. A professional will always strive to ask for feedback and when they are told their WIP has problems in X, Y, and Z, you know what they do? They dive right in! Good feedback that is used with tact will always motivate you to push yourself to a new height and a new challenge. An example of this was when I was going through a second round of critiques on Fallen From the Stars. One of my readers posed a serious question about a supporting character and couldn’t make a connection. Eureka! He was right! I went back and added three more chapters just to create the build-up, tension, battle, and resolution  for that supporting character. Result? It eliminated a “dry spell” in that part of the book and added a level of tension and drama not expected.

5. Love the tedium (or at least put up with it). Congratulations! You finished that book! You managed to crank out 100k words and to you, it’s done! However, in reality, it’s not done because you now need to get feedback on it, but before you do that, you need to edit it. Edit, yeah, that word. You know, make it readable for the rest of us. Another amateur mistake I’ve seen a lot of indie authors make is they will not edit their own work. They will run it through spellcheck or maybe Grammarly and then boom, they think they are done. They then format the book and hit the publish button on Amazon. Editing is a part of life. You have to do it. If you love it like I do (I have an unhealthy obsession with it), then tasks like these actually help you cope with the melancholy that comes after you finish the first draft. Even if you don’t love it, at least put up with it.

Regarding amateurs, some hate editing with all capital letters. Once the fun part of the craft actually turns into work, that can deflate motivation quickly. Once a writer realizes they’re only producing crap, they give up and blog about being a professional author or something like that.

There are many other tips on how to stay motivated to write, but with a good mindset, understanding how writing is all about endurance, and good encouragement, then receiving a check at the end of the month is just icing on the cake.

Happy writing!

A Good Writing Prompt Method to Help You

There are times when we all need a boost of inspiration. Writing a book is a mentally draining experience. It even takes more energy to continue to present a fresh story every time you produce something new. The last thing you want your die-hard fans to say is that you’re rehashing old stories, characters, and plots into something slightly different.

If you’re really out of ideas, do what I call a picture method.

Look at this picture I pulled from Pinterest:

Now, ask yourself some questions about the picture:

  1. Who is she?
  2. Who is the man with the hands out?
  3. What is the woman doing other than casting some kind of spell or maybe offering a magic item?
  4. Who are the men behind her?

Think about twenty to thirty questions to ask about this picture. Just the questions! Maybe get your close friends to help you.

That’s just to get you started, so now we need to start answering those questions:

  1. The woman is a queen, the men in the background are her vassals, the dukes of the queendom’s parliament.
  2. The man is the protagonist of the story, but she’s casting a spell to execute him. Let’s take this a step further. She’s the man’s sister, but she’s not the villain of the story.
  3. This is taking place in a temple of their gods. Their gods are living, interactive beings who have called for the man’s death.

So what’s at stake? Why is the Queen executing her brother?

  1. Because he is a threat to her claim to the throne. Their mother recently passed away and it is the culture of this nation that siblings are required to eliminate all other claimants. He doesn’t want to fight and kill his sister, so he surrenders.
  2. Why are they battling again? Because the Queen Mother died. Many people think the Queen Mother died of old age, but she was assassinated. The power behind the assassination was one of the dukes who sees one of the siblings as a puppet to manipulate for his own ends.
  3. The duke himself has an alliance with another nation who have long since suffered under the Queen Mother’s yoke. They are trying to break free from her influence and maybe renegotiate with a weaker ruler.

Now you have the basics of a plot — a foreign power along with a duke assassinates the Queen Mother, sparking the political maneuvering culminating into a final battle between the prince and princess for the throne.

Happy writing!