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?

The Ideas Bag

I blogged here about getting ideas, and how I’m not someone who has a drawer full of them waiting for me to pick them for my next masterpiece.  However, this probably needs revising.

The beauty of writing is that the more you write, the more you see ideas around you.  I have found in the last few weeks or so I’ve come up with a number of ideas!  Perhaps it’s because I can see the end in sight with my current project, or perhaps I’m just dreading finishing it.  Either way, I have some possibilities for the next project.

The disappointing thing is, not many of them are in the fantasy genre.  They’re all history or crime or a mixture of both.  What does that mean?  Probably that I’m reading too many history and crime books!

J-A’s Writing Process – Step 1 – The Idea

I have a confession to make – I’m not an ideas person.  I’m not one of these super-creative people who have ‘light bulb moments’ when an innovative idea comes to mind out of the blue and fills me with inspiration and passion.  That’s why I don’t writing science fiction – I don’t have any idea what the future will look like until someone tells me. 

So when someone asked me ‘how do you get ideas’, I had to really think.  The answer for me is that over time, I get a small collection of things I’m interested in, and then when I need an idea, I sit down and play around something off that list.  This is why a notebook is important.  Because it’s hard for me to come up with ideas, I need to note where I’ve had an interesting thought and then I can maybe use my knowledge of the writing craft to drag an idea out of it.

Examples of where I get these ‘pre-ideas’ from are:

  • dreams
  • a place I’ve been to
  • emotional intrigues in something I’ve read in a newspaper or seen on the news
  • interesting jobs or settings from history I’m reading about

Anyhow, you get the picture.  Then I sit down and work out what characters in these scenarios might be like, what fantasy setting I can apply to it and what kind of conflict might happen in it. 

Alas, no light bulb goes off and sometimes it can take ages to pull it all out.  Perhaps that’s why I write fantasy, so I only have to go through this idea generation thing every 3 books (provided one sells!).

If anyone else has ideas of how to get ideas, would love to hear about them.

The trilogy and how it works in fantasy

J-A is a very happy author, having reached 61,597 words.  Only a few more to go til finished (at 100,000 – I’m in denial, I suspect).

And that brings me to a point.  When selecting the genre you’re writing, it’s important to get an idea of how many words you’ll need to write.  If you’re thinking fantasy, you’re looking at a minimum of 100,000 words per book, and you have to write in trilogies.  At least until you’re famous with a firm fan base, then you can maybe stretch the genre a little.

This sounds like a huge undertaking, and it is, but I find it helps to think about it in terms of ‘beginning (setting up and things start getting wobbly), middle (or transition) and end (protagonist triumphs, evil is overthrown and everything’s OK again)’. 

In Book one, we meet the protagonist, find out who he or she is, what conflict they’re facing and how overpowering this conflict seems.  The status quo ends for the protagonist, and they’re gradually faced with ever increasing problems. End of book one – the protagonist has just gotten themselves into deep trouble. 

Book two is about the protagonist going through hell, so he or she has the wind knocked out of them, they’re wiped out and then build themselves back up again until they’re ready to come out fighting (end Book two).

Book three is about the protagonist (and chronies of course) saying ‘Bother it!  I’m strong!  I can do this’ and throwing themselves back into the fray with a new purpose and energy.  They win, and everything is better than it was before.

Those are my thoughts anyway.  It works for me.  Still, no denying it, 100,000 is a lot of words … better get back to it.