Oooooh, I found a cool thing.
We had a very successful writers’ meeting this past Saturday and I’d like to share with you the exercise we did. The exercise was crafted to hone our ability to create fictional worlds in which to set our stories and, just as importantly, how to describe those worlds so as not to bore the reader to tears.
First, I’d like you to consider that there are two points of attacking the problem of world building: Top-Down and Bottom-Up. To put it very simply, you can build your world, decide on the geography, history, geology, cultures, religions, population, biology, technology, linguistics, etc and then write a story set in this world. Or, you can begin writing straight away and come up with the details of the world as you go.
I advocate for using both methods by turns. I largely let my mood determine which I am going to work on on any given day. Some days, I’m in a really good flow, the characters are coming alive right off the page, the plot is moving along smoothly, interesting things are happening. Some days, my writing is clunky and forced and I just don’t feel like it so, instead of abandoning my work for the day, I take care of other necessary tasks that come with producing a work of fiction. I do some research, I flesh out a character by filling out a character sheet, I seek out music that reminds me of a character or would be appropriate for a scene, or I work out some points about the setting by drawing maps, diagrams, writing lists, etc.
Here is an excellent post by Writing Questions Answered to help you determine when some world-building is in order and when you can safely proceed with putting pen to paper (or pixels to screen.)
Tomorrow, my Writers’ Circle is having a meeting. Which reminds me, I should probably do the exercise … Anyway! Tomorrow, my Writers’ Circle is having a meeting and the subject is world-building. In writing, world-building is more than simply deciding on the details of how your fantasy world is made up and how it works: it’s conveying those details in an engaging manner so the reader’s eyes don’t gloss over.
Here is a great article that my friend Gretar shared on that very subject: How to Write Descriptive Passages Without Boring the Reader or Yourself.
Enjoy! And remember: make good art!
While I wait for the arrival of my printed proof, I’m spending some time in reflection of this past year, determining what I did well and what needs improvement. I stumbled on a writing challenge and felt it was a perfect follow-up to NaNoWriMo. It’s called the Renew and Review Writing Challenge.
Once a day, for all of December, an exercise appears in my inbox and I do it. The exercises are pretty intensive, but they’ve been immensely helpful so far. What the challenge does for the participant is help them take stock of all of 2013 in terms of writing in order to formulate a game-plan for the upcoming year. I highly recommend getting in on the action.
Okay, who wants to watch me step waaay outside my comfort zone? … Well don’t everybody jump up and down at once.
The fact is, I’m not that great at writing child characters. In Blood of Midnight, the male protagonists’ younger sister, Rebecca is as low as I’ll go with confidence. She’s 14. Naturally, I was petrified when my buddy Lofn’s Bard brought some children’s story writing exercises to Writers’ Circle. Nevertheless, I soldiered on and managed to make some improvements in the way I write kids and, perhaps, write for kids. I’ve still got a long way to go, but this has been a good start and I’d like to share one of those exercises with you.
The chief reason I find it so hard to write in a child’s voice is that I really can’t remember my childhood except for a few incidents here and there. I don’t know why. That’s just how it is. So, naturally, an exercise that helps squeeze more details out of a given memory is really helpful!
Filling in the Blanks
Take this sample phrase and fill in the blanks:
When I was __ years old, my favourite _____________ was ___________________.
I remember the time when ____________________________________.
For example: When I was 10 years old, my favourite toy was a Power Rangers action figure.
I remember the time when one of mum’s babysitting kids broke his head off and I was so angry that I didn’t talk to him for a week.
But don’t stop there. Keep writing everything you can remember on the subject. Write for about ten minutes even if you have to drift into other topics. Anything you can dredge forth from the fog of memory is good material.
Now, have a look at your finished product. Look at the age you described and at the scribbles under it. Does it sound like it is being spoken by a person of that age? Why or why not? If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably written it mostly, or entirely in your adult voice. Don’t despair. The discrepancies are telling and you can learn from them.
Rewrite the piece now, paying close attention to things like word choice (children have small vocabularies), abstract ideas (children are very literal), and sentence length and structure (keep it simple). For a really good workout, try a year or two younger and a year or two older and explore what the maturation process does to the writing.
Hope this helps you and, as always, thanks for stopping by. Make good art!
This was just too good not to repost. I’m guilty of doing this myself, probably because of my fondness for writing, and reading, very introspective characters. While I might not be so ruthless as to eliminate all thought verbs as described, this would certainly be helpful in the editing process to make the detail more rich and informative.
Visualizing where things take place while we’re writing is just as important as visualizing our characters. I like to organize all the info I have on prominent locations in the story so that composing and editing are a lot less of a hassle.
Not only that, but I find that in the process of filling these templates out, I can squeeze a lot more info out of the novel concept than I knew was in there. It can be handy for dealing with writer’s block.
While I like to use Scrivener to keep all my stuff in order, you can totally do this without productivity software as well by simply keeping it in a file folder. So, just like I have my character sheets, I also have setting sheets and I’ve made this filled-out version available on Google Docs for you to make use of should you find it helpful. I like to give folks pre-filled templates so they can see how I make use of the fields and decide whether or not said fields are helpful, or if perhaps they might need additional fields.
If you’d like a blank one of this or my character template, just give me a shout and I’ll make it available.
I find that organizing all the data I have on my characters, locations, etc really help me when working on a book. It can be hard sometimes to keep everything straight. “What was so-and-so’s uncle’s name?” and “Errr what colour were his eyes again?” can be easily answered with a character sheet much like you might have for a roleplaying character.
Unlike a roleplaying character, though novel characters tend to need some different categories for info. For example: They don’t need hit points and they probably don’t need a list of what’s in their inventory, but they do need a good list of hobbies and a description of what their home looks like.
I browsed online to see what templates were out there for novel characters and simply couldn’t find anything that suited me. So, I made my own. I will share it here, filled out with the stats for an as-yet unused character concept I had just so you can see how I make use of the fields. Feel free to download it and use it, add to it. Whatever you like. I hope it serves you well.
Edit: Since Google Docs seems to like to muck with my picture-placement for no discernable reason, here is the same document in .odt for those of you who use Open Office.