Worldbuilding 101

This is a post I’ve been meaning to upload for a long time. World building is an important aspect of all writing.  Fantasy usually involves maps, and I’m sure we’ve all done plenty of those.  It’s important to have a basic understanding of geography and climate so you don’t make a mistake and have two things together that wouldn’t be possible in the real world. We all suspend our disbelief for some things (eg the possibility of space travel, or indeed, existence of magic), but there’s only so far you can push this. Best to reserve your reader’s goodwill for the big stuff.  I would recommend reading a textbook on it aimed at the primary school level – easy to understand and hopefully not too dense!

Think about aspects of your world such as landscape features, food sources, trade and technology, and resources that might become a basis for trade or war. Other aspects include political structure, spiritual framework and social class. All of these things will impact on the people who live there, will shape who they are and influence who they will become.

How your protagonist and antagonist are placed in terms of these things will determine how they act, what they say, even what values they have. And you’ve probably spotted it already – they can yield the conflict that will move your story forward and make it compelling.

Of course, there’s a trap too. I have to carefully time limit my world building phase, as it’s a really lovely way of putting off writing! How much of it you need depends on the writer, but I would argue you don’t need much to start your first draft. You can always drop the detail in later, and it’s just so satisfying seeing that word count go up, isn’t it?

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The Bear Emerges

It’s spring here in Australia, and I’m emerging from my writing hybernation.  For the past year, I’ve been concentrating on writing purely for entertainment.  My goal has been to get words out, without caring whether they’re good bad or indifferent.  Story is king, but I’m not allowed to think too much about it.  I can’t worry whether I’m writing something meaningful, or I get caught up with ‘what’s the message here?’.  Conversely, I’m not allowed to think ‘this is rubbish’, or I stop me writing ‘forwards’.  All of these judgements have to be left to the next draft.

It’s been hard work!  It’s amazing how often self-doubt and concern about brilliance (or lack thereof) crowds into my creative space.   But it’s been fun, and while I haven’t written as much as I would have liked, I’ve got a couple of finished shorter pieces and another on the way.

I’m also starting to notice something.  The faster I write, the better it is.  Starting something is usually clunky (although my current project is just singing along), but after I’ve warmed up a bit, the words start to flow.  The characters speak for themselves, the events lead one to the other and I’m driven to finish the event or scene I’m working on until the whole thing is finished.

I don’t know why the writing gets better.  It could be because I stop running interference – I can see an end in sight and start bolting for the finish line instead of holding myself up double guessing what I’m doing.  Or maybe it’s because when I get to a certain point, the weight of the story drives it along despite any interference from me.  Definitely passion has something to do with it – I get caught in the story and all I have to do is sit down and pick up the pen.  Whatever it is, I now know it will happen and feel more grounded having experienced it a number of times.  I’ve hit a bit of a flat patch in my current project, but I know if I keep going, I’ll get to the flow again and can worry about the less than brilliant parts in a redraft.  That might mean EVERYTHING gets worked over, but hey, it’s a lot easier to edit than to produce!

And above all else, while facing the blank page is something I dread, nothing beats writing ‘The End’!

Technology and the Writer

We all know that writers need to be aware of the Internet and social media.  Not only are we talking marketing tools, but as writers our craft relies on understanding the social fabric of the communities we live in.

In the four years I’ve seriously been engaging with this side of modern life, things have changed so much.  With every new tool I find, I have to spend considerable time learning how to use it.  And just when I start to feel comfortable, the program changes and I have to discover anew where everything is.

Now, I may not be as IT savvy as some, but I’m not exactly IT illiterate either.  I just find that with a day job as well as this writing gig, when I sit down to my computer it’s often a choice between social media and writing my own work.  When your spare time is split across running a household, socialising and writing a masterpiece, it often feels like none of it is getting done well.

So what’s the answer?  Sometimes I think I’d like to give up the Internet entirely until I’ve finished a major work, but when I connect with the virtual writing space, I find I’m inspired.  Writing is a solitary occupation, and for an extravert, that’s a difficult thing.  But I don’t need to engage with everything.  I can pick one or two tools and have a play, within an allocated timeslot.  As usual, it seems that discipline is the key.

One day, I’d like to find something that requires a total lack of willpower and dedication.  I’m sure I’d excel at that!

The Importance of Dilemma

I was talking to a writing buddy the other day about the tome and how I’d gone wrong somewhere with the plot.  She offered to look at a synopsis for me to see if it really didn’t work or whether I had just lost perspective on it.  This was a good opportunity, so I went home and starting working on it.

In revisiting the book, I suddenly realised something.  I had solved the dilemma my protagonist is facing too early!  And I solved it too easily for her.  Instead of increasing my protagonist’s difficulty to a crescendo at the end of the book (remembering this is book 1 of a trilogy), I allowed her a small hissy fit halfway through.  No wonder it fell flat after that!

Just goes to show, sometimes it pays to give things a rest and get some perspective.

A Simple Way to Detect Passive Voice

A good grammar book will tell you what ‘passive voice’ is much better than I, but I’ll give it a go.  Briefly, it’s when the subject is having something done to it (passive), rather than doing something (active).  So what?  I hear you ask.  Well, in order to gain maximum reader engagement, you need maximum reader involvement.  The more action, the more your reader is ‘living’ your story, making it irresistable.

Passive voice describes things in a way that leaves the reader standing outside the story looking in, aware they are watching a scene unfold before them rather than losing themselves in it.  At first, I didn’t think this would make that much difference to me as a reader, but in reading through my own work after I’d put it away for a while, I really noticed the shift in my reading consciousness and level of engagement with the story.

So when I’m rewriting, passive construction is one of the first things I look out for.  I don’t look at every sentence and ask myself if there’s an active subject in it.  While I might have been OK at English at school, I mostly do things by feel.  If it feels right, then it is right.  I’m lucky enough not to have too much of a problem with grammar – cheers to my primary school education, despite moving schools mid way through my primary years!

I look out for any form of the word ‘be’, including ‘was’ and ‘is’.  If it’s with the past participle of a verb, it’s passive voice, but I don’t spend time trying to work that out.  When I spot the ‘be’ words, I just try and find another way of writing the sentence.  And do you know, I get the most amazing work at the end of it?  More action, more excitement, more plot.

Which is kind of ironic, considering all those self-help books I read tell me to stop ‘doing’ and start ‘being’.

Alas, no capitals

I was on a theatre site the other day, and noticed that someone had posted without using capitals.  In response, another person had commented about the poster’s grammatical imperfections, indicating they couldn’t be successful until this was rectified.  As there weren’t many grammatical errors as such (maybe a missing apostrophe or two), I could only surmise that the commentor’s problem was with the lack of capitals.  Apparently, according to the commentor, the post was unprofessional.

Some of you may have noticed that I don’t use capitals when I comment or email in a social context.  I love not using capitals – there’s something about the informality of it that relaxes me.  I’ve done it almost since I first started using email (ahem – 13 years ago, dare I say), and it has become a part of me.  In all other respects, I follow standard grammatical rules, but no capitals means fun for me and is a part of my self-expression.

That’s why I think it’s sad that the person who had originally written the post had not been understood in this context.  It felt to me that their personal expression was being criticised (and criticised quite sharply, I have to say).  However, I also take on board what the commentor was saying about a lack of capitals appearing unprofessional, and that writers need to adjust to their audience (something that is a basic tenet of the writer’s life).

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the use of capitals?

A Holiday from Writing is Sometimes Needed

After a few days doing nothing but resting and reading, I’m feeling great!  Having time out to recharge the batteries without feeling guilty was fantastic, and I now feel ready to get back to the empty page.  In fact, I feel energised about my project in a way I haven’t felt for a few weeks. 

It’s probably going to sound obvious, but when you’re mentally exhausted, you can’t write no matter how hard you try.  The harder you push yourself, the worse the situation gets.  What I’ve learned from this is that when I take a holiday in future, instead of rushing to my writing desk to get another chapter done, I’ll be quarantining the first 50% at least to relaxing instead.  If it makes the writing easier, it’s worth it!

Now, perhaps I should do that on weekends too…

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