30 Days of WorldBuilding

With my recent decision to scrap a couple of projects I’ve been working on, one in particular, I’ve been thinking about what projects I’m going to concentrate on now.

Not being one for working on too many projects at a time, I’ve decided to go with two manuscripts.  One is a much loved project that has been finished, but needs replanning and rewriting – The Marlinor Trilogy.  The other is new and different to what I’ve worked on in the past – the non-fiction children’s picture book.

At opposite ends of the scale, I think that will work in my favour.  There certainly could not be any confusion between the two as they are different in every sense of the word.

The non-fiction picture book is in the first draft.  I’ve been considering ways to make it entertaining for the intended audience and will put those thoughts into action once I’ve finished the book I’m reading.  I also need to complete my research on writing proposals in order to submit the project when it has been completed.

The trilogy is a different story.  It’s complex and, although I know the characters, world and plot of book 1, I need to plot out the other two books.  I plan to start again and rebuild the characters and the world, which brings me to the reason for this post…

The author of the following quote and subsequent link claims that if you put 15 minutes aside each day for 30 days, you can build a complete world worthy of your story.  She has written a post for each day in the form of an exercise where she gives an explanation of what you’ll be doing and why and then she’ll set you a task to do.  I haven’t checked the whole 30 days, but I believe this could be helpful in putting all writers on the right track.

And if you want to build a magical world, there’s a link to some extra information at the bottom of the sidebar.

A lot of times, people want to write a novel and think “I want to write fantasy, but there’s so much world-building I would have to do– I haven’t done any of it!” As everyone signing up for NaNoWriMo or any writing challenge quickly learns, this is really the self-editor speaking; it’s another way of saying “I can’t.”

So, give yourself 7 and a half hours this month– 15 minutes a day– to build a world. It’s not going to be Perfect or Set. Why would it be? You haven’t actually written the story yet, you haven’t tested its limits. But it’ll give you something to start with, something to feel comfortable about when you start.

via 30 Days of WorldBuilding by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant

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To Plan or Not to Plan

Life has been busy and I haven’t had time to do much of anything lately, especially do the internet rounds and check up on my fellow writers. Today, however, I decided to correct that and have been doing the rounds.

The first stop was Benjamin Solah’s website. He’s getting ready to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo which means he’s planning the 50,000 words he has to endeavour to write in the month of November. Because of this Benjamin has written some very interesting, and inspiring, posts which I’d like to link to here. First, there is NaNoWriMo: How I Plot My Novel and then there is NaNoWriMo: How I Create Characters. As I’m very much a visual person, I love the idea of using gaming facilities such as Simms to build a character. Anyway, both of these posts made me thinking about my own writing, so if you need something to help you along, go and give them a read.

When I landed on Struggling Writer’s website, I was pleased to find a post that is in contract to Benjamin’s. Whilst Benjamin is planning, planning, planning, Struggling Writer (also participating in NaNoWriMo) is set on not planning! If you are not much of a planner, then his post Novel Planning for Pantsers might be of interest to you. Struggling Writer admits that this year he’s going to remain a pantser writer by doing a bare minimal amount of what some would call planning. He has included some links to some interesting writing resources too.

For me, it’s been an interesting and informative hour or so. My fellow writers are planning and not planning for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (which I won’t be participating in this year), but the ideas they share (as well as the links) are all worthwhile and inspiring. Personally, I’m a planner from way back, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find inspiration from a non-planner, because I have.

Thanks guys and good luck in November.

TiddlyWiki

Resuming work after a nice break is always difficult, but it has to be done if food is going to be put on the table. Today, I returned to work after a break of almost three weeks. *sigh*

However, I won’t dwell on that. Let me tell you what I’ve been doing – in terms of writing – since the beginning of the New Year. I’m pleased to be able to say that I have spent many hours every day on my writing projects. I haven’t actually written a single word, but there’s more to writing than the actual written word.

A friend told me about TiddlyWiki and showed me her files, so that I could see it in action. It’s free to download and use. There’s a tutorial if you need help understanding how a wiki works. Once downloaded, you just copy the file, changing the name of it (by doing this you can use the downloaded file over and over again) and then you can start using it straight away. There’s no real installation and it’s loaded onto your computer. You don’t need an internet connection to use it either, even though you use your browser when working with it. The file is small enough to put on a USB flash card too. It’s so easy!

I have used an online wiki before, so I understood the working of it, but needed a reminder how to do things like using the bold, italics and underscore features, and also how to insert images. There are plenty of other things you can do too ie ordered and unordered lists and blockquotes.

But what am I using it for? I know you want to know. It’s ideal for planning writing projects and for gathering all the research (including images you collect) associated with that project, into one file. Every aspect of the planning can be cross referenced too, which is brilliant! If you set up the wiki correctly, it will make your writing project organised, efficient and everything will be at your finger tips.

The first wiki I set up was for the Marlinor Trilogy. I have a lot of research material, which was placed in folders according to subject, but even so it was getting almost impossible to find anything (even when I knew the information I wanted was there…somewhere). Now that information is categorised, cross referenced and tagged…and there’s a search function too! Apart from that, I’ve also set up the planning for the story – world building, character lists, storylines, themes for each book, plots for each book and an in depth history, which also links to the research material to prove authenticity. It’s absolutely the best way to organise your planning.

Then I created a second wiki and started doing the same thing for the children’s chapter books.

I literally spent hours every day working on this, but the result is fantastic. I discovered I had changed the spelling of character names between book 1 and book 2 of the children’s series. That is now fixed. I discovered information in my original planning that had been lost or forgotten. That cannot happen again. I believe the children’s series and the trilogy will be better because of the time I’ve invested in getting these wikis right.

Now I intend to create a third wiki for Mirror Image. This is the project I should be editing, but I’m having trouble with. I’m hoping that, by creating the wiki, I’ll work out what the stumbling block is and get passed it.

I highly recommend TiddlyWiki. However, if you want to do the same thing online, from any computer, then I recommend PBWiki, which is free and you can change the settings so that only you have access to it. If you’re not using a wiki to organise your writing, then you should try it. I doubt you’ll be sorry.

Planning a Scene

I was recently at Jim Butcher’s blog – author of the Dresden Files. There is a lot to read there, but I was especially interested in the article about using an arc to plan a story. His suggestion is to simply draw an arc on a piece of paper. Naturally, the beginning of the arc is the beginning of the story and the end of the arc is the end of the story. Then you place “markers” across the arc which coincides with crucial events in your story. Finally you add in more markers for other important scenes and anything else that moves your story forward. This is a good idea.

Anyway, I don’t need an arc for my current manuscript – Mirror Image. It’s well and truly passed the arc stage. Not being one to pass up a good idea, I figured that the most important scene in my manuscript – the climax, which is long and complicated – needs a lot of work and I could adapt the arc for improving that scene.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been drawing arcs everywhere. But something good came from all that physical labour. I realised that the scene has to be cut down into four crucial sections and each section needs an arc of its own. This will enable me to focus on the emotions of the MC and therefore build the tension accordingly, which is something that didn’t quite happen in the first draft.

What I did was, in blue, put in essential “events” from the character’s viewpoint including what the character was feeling at the time. These were added to the top of the arc. Then, in red, I added events that other characters contributed to the scene, which affected the MC and in turn affected the overall scene. I added these to the underside of the arc. I’ve done this for Section 1 of the scene and will do the same for the other three sections over the next few days. Then I’ll have a comprehensive plan for the climax. However, I will not be tackling the edit of this scene for some time yet. I am currently working through each character’s storyline and I need to finish doing that because I might find other things that must be added to the arcs. However, it was because of this that I discovered missing elements for the characters I have done. The storylines feel unfinished yet once the climax has been reached I cannot go back to these other characters and give them their required resolution. In other words, this information must be added to the climax. I have no choice. I did say the scene was complicated, but hopefully using the arcs will help me get it right eventually.

The Lure of a New Project

If you visit a lot of writers’ websites, you’ll soon find a large majority of them openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. There are several reasons for this, but I’m going to talk about only one of those reasons today – the lure of a new project.

Yesterday, after a strong fight against it, I allowed the lure of a new project to take hold of me. I must say that the feeling is quite overwhelming and I can attest that the excitement of working on something new and fresh is what forces writers to stray from their current project. The writer has not stopped loving the old project; they just need a complete change of scenery. We do this all the time in everyday life. We change jobs when we start feeling bored and depressed with the old one. We seem to change partners at the drop of a hat these days. So why can’t a writer change projects too?

We spend many long months, even years, planning and writing a project (this is especially true when writing a series). Is it any wonder that we grow a little tired of the … well, same old, same old? To me, it’s not surprising at all. New ideas are always surfacing. We might write the idea down, but we will usually return to the job at hand. However, as the months tick by, the lure is more tempting and then…before we realise what’s happening, we have strayed.

Be warned, if you allow the lure to take you too often, then you will be one of the writers who openly admit to starting more stories than they finish. Do you want to fall into that category? I believe none of us do.

A serious writer will discipline themselves against the lure. They will set up guards to force the enemy back. They will build traps to stop the evilness from approaching their sanctuary. They will do whatever it takes to see their current project completed and submitted. That’s how a writer becomes an author. They submit completed manuscripts for publication, which is something you cannot do if you never finish a manuscript.

So, take this as a warning. The lure of a new project feels great. It’s exciting. It’s even inspiring and motivational. But if you give in to this weakness too often, you’ll never finish a project…and you’ll never become a published author.

The "RL Technique" J.K. Rowling Uses To Hook Her Readers

by Jared Myers

The “RL Technique” J K Rowling uses to grab readers by the eyeballs and forces them to re-read her books again and again.

I’ll show you how it practically gives away all her best kept secrets and how you can use it to keep your own readers hanging on your every word.

You’ve probably heard the stories about the kid who hated reading, picked up one of Jo’s books and now he can’t stop reading them. Maybe the same thing happened to you.

But did you ever stop to wonder WHY you can’t stop reading them?

I’ll tell you. It’s a little secret Jo uses in her writing. I call it the “RL Technique.”

What is the RL Technique? The RL Technique is a lethal combination of 1.) Repetition and 2.) Layering that practically forces a reader to re-read books again and again. Especially when the technique is used in writing a series of books.

Here’s why: Many Fantasy novels have few or no boundaries. The dialogue might be realistic. But the characters can do almost anything they want, because there’s always some magical spell that makes it all possible. (And that’s part of the excitement of reading Fantasy. That’s what makes these types of books such an escape for us.)

But this idea of “no limits” can be used as a cheap trick, too.

The last thing you want as a reader is to come to the resolution of a great book. And say to yourself, “Okay now, let’s just see how she’ll get out of this one.” And the author’s lame explanation is, “Well, there’s a spell that takes care of that problem.”

It’s a cheap trick. And it’s sloppy writing.

Jo’s technique of repetition and layering works better.

Let me show you how it works: You remember the first time you read Sorcerer’s Stone? And you remember the part where Harry’s at the zoo talking to the snake? But no one thought anything of it until Book 2, when we found out that most wizards can’t speak to snakes like we thought they could.

And I’m sure you remember the part in Book 2 when Harry, Ron and Hermione drank the Polyjuice Potion that turned them into Crabbe, Goyle and Milicent Bullstrode’s cat? (Sorry, Hermione.) But we didn’t think anything of it until Book 4, when Barty Crouch Junior used the same trick to turn himself into Mad-Eye Moody.

Well, that’s good use of repetition.

You remember the time Draco Malfoy went into Borgin and Burke’s, and wanted his father to buy him the Hand of Glory? And we didn’t see it again until Book 6.

You probably also remember the heavy locket that Harry, Ron and Hermione came across while cleaning Grimmauld Place 12? But we didn’t think anything of it until Book 6, when we started looking at possible Horcruxes.

Well, that’s good use of layering.

This way Jo forces you to go back and search her books for clues. And you can use this technique in your own writing.

In Jo’s own words she explained:

  • “[The reason Book 5 is so long is because] there’s information in there that you really do need to know otherwise people will feel cheated when certain outcomes happen.” [1]
  • “I had to put in some things because of what’s coming in books 6 and 7 and I didn’t want anyone to say to me ‘what a cheat you never gave us clues’. If I didn’t mention things in Order of the Phoenix I think you’ve said ‘well, you sprang that on us’! Whereas I want you to be able to guess if you’ve got your wits about you.” [2] And speaking of Thestrals she said, “If Harry had seen them and it had not been explained then it would cheat the reader. [3]

You see? Jo *wants* you to have to work hard to “get” her books. She doesn’t want you to be able to solve them until after you’ve read Book 7. But she has promised readers that the answers are there.

She wants you to read Book 7, see the resolution, and slap yourself on the forehead when you realize, “Oh, yeah; she did say something about that all the way back in Book 1!”

She’s compelled to write her books this way. Because it’s a game for her. And she doesn’t want you to feel cheated.

And here’s the good news: You can beat Jo at her own “game”…if you’ve got your wits about you go to my resource box now, and I’ll show you how.

[1] Couric, Katie. Interview with J.K. Rowling. Dateline NBC, 20 June 2003.

[2] Fry, Stephen, interviewer: J.K. Rowling at the Royal Albert Hall, 26 June 2003.

[3] Fry, Stephen, interviewer: J.K. Rowling at the Royal Albert Hall, 26 June 2003.

If you’ve got questions about Harry Potter 7, I’ve got more answers for you. A lot more answers. You’ll find them here at http://www.book7answers.com/t2-index.php

About the Author:
Jared Myers is a former Private Investigator who uses his puzzle-solving techniques to bring you hard to find information.

Other Related Links:

Harry Potter Merchandise

Harry Potter Books

Using Index Cards

Last night, I finished reading No Plot? No Problem!: A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty. (I admit there was a long break between starting the book and finishing it, because I was extremely busy.)

There’s a section at the end of the book that gives tips on rewriting your NaNo manuscript if you think it’s got potential. There are six steps to the rewrite, and in summary, they are:

  • Read your manuscript through from first word to last and make a note of each scene on the manuscript itself in any colour pen except red (red is strictly for editing). At the beginning of each scene write down who is in the scene and a brief summary of what happens in the scene.
  • Transfer these notes onto index cards (or a spreadsheet) exactly as you wrote them. Now lay the cards out in the order they appear in the manuscript, using a vertical divider (Chris recommended a pencil for this) to group the scenes into chapters.
  • Scan the cards, removing any that don’t move the story forward. Check the remaining for characters that don’t seem to do anything or are doubles of other characters. If a character doesn’t have a reason to be in the story, get rid of them. However, if the character is needed but their story arc isn’t properly represented create new cards and place them where they should go. Ensure all characters are well developed on the cards before moving on to the next step.
  • Now shuffle the cards and place them down in alternate ways to ensure you have the best storyline possible; not forgetting to ensure you have the best pace and tension too. You may find you have to slice and dice some more scenes/characters when you finally decide on the best layout, so delete and create more cards if necessary.
  • Now return to your manuscript and cut and past the document so that the scenes are in the order you decided was best with the cards. Don’t edit! Just put everything in the right order. If you have added scenes, type in a place marker by writing four or five lines of a quick description of the scene. Remove the scenes that you no longer need.
  • Rewrite (or edit) your story – slowly and line by line.

This sounds like a good plan for my chapters books. I’ve written two, but I feel they need improving and I thought I could use the index cards I’ve already prepared and see what happens when I follow the steps (starting at step 2, of course).

Today, after returning home from a lovely morning out (we went to see the latest Harry Potter movie and had lunch), I decided that I’d start. However, my index cards were nowhere to be found. I pulled my bedroom apart (that’s where I normally write), but nothing. I then went into the computer room and ended up having a spring clean in there too, but still nothing. I don’t know what happened to them, but they are missing and I have a strong feeling I will not be finding them anytime soon. You know that “safe place” everyone has, well that’s where they must be and we all know no one knows where that place is.

I guess I’ll be doing the steps from the beginning, instead of cheating and starting at step 2 now. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I just wish I knew what happened to those cards.

Making Magic Real in your Fantasy Writing

By Will Kalif

Magic is a wonderful aspect of Fantasy. It can add whole new dimensions to the world you are creating by bringing new dilemmas and new problems and challenges. It can also bring a fair amount of spicy and interesting conflicts. But magic is not a panacea. It should not be used to easily solve plot problems and difficulties that your protagonists face. It has to follow rules and you have to establish these rules.

Everything in your fantasy world follows rules. And even if these rules aren’t spoken they are implied and understood. Do your characters have to eat? Of course they do! If a character gets wounded in battle is there a price that is paid? Of course there is. Magic must also follow rules. It is a tool and a source of interesting material for your writing but it is not a panacea. And these rules must be understood by your reader.

There is room for a lot of creativity when it comes to putting magic in your writing. After all, it is magic! But you cannot use it as a crutch to easily solve the problems your characters come across. You should use it as a tool for adding richness to your world and for adding another level of problems to be overcome. The way this is done is with the simple rule that magic always brings something with it -something unexpected or unwanted. This something could be unwanted side effects or as of yet unknown implications. Here are some suggestions and guidelines for successfully using magic in your writing.

There is a price to be paid. This is a common technique for managing magic and you see it often. In order for characters to use magic they have to pay a price. This price could be as simple as body weakness and the need for sleep or as complex as the need to drain their own blood to cast spells. (The more potent the spell the more blood that is required.) This puts a limit on the magic.

The unknown consequences to come – Often times a protagonist uses magic without fully understanding the implications and early in a story he or she reaches new heights and later finds out there are dire consequences. This is a useful tool that serves as a way for the character to throttle and monitor his use of magic. This technique works very well because it helps in character growth. Early in the work the character is naive but develops a certain amount of wisdom as time passes.

Corruption of self – The use of magic is often tied very closely with the corrupting effect that power brings. As a character uses more and more magic he becomes morally tainted by it. This is a parable for the adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The loss of something – Sometimes using magic means the loss of something. This could be the loss of physical abilities, loss of humanity or even the loss of the ability to get married. It could be anything and it is a great tool for a writer because it brings up conflicts where your characters have to carefully weigh the benefits and pitfalls of using magic. So how should you manage magic in your writing?

The first rule of thumb is to lay out the basic rules for the magic early in your writing. That way the reader isn’t surprised by the weak writing trick of having your protagonist solve problems by pulling out obscure and powerful spells. Your reader can also enjoy and understand the conflicts as they occur. Second of all you must always be clear on the ramifications of the use of magic. There is always some kind of price to be paid. And finally you must remember that the antagonist probably has just as much right to the magic as the protagonist. There must always be balance. It is a sign of weak writing if the good guys always get powerful spells and the bad guys just have clubs. Keeping this balance of power also makes for much more interesting stories. If you are using magic to solve your character’s problems you are cheating your reader. Good magic should bring up just as many problems as it solves.

Will Kalif is the author of two self-published epic fantasy novels. You can download free samples of his work at his personal website:
Storm The Castle – Creativity and Fantasy with an edge

Or you can visit his site devoted to fantasy on the web at:
The Webs Fantasy Guide

Note by Karen: I have included this post, written by a third party, on this website because it is something I am currently having difficulty with. If I’m having trouble with magic in fantasy, possibly other visitors to this site are too. I hope the post helps more writers get magic right in their fantasy stories.

Finding the REAL Problem

Last week I wrote about My Writing Future and a few days later I gave a Dilemma Update, and now I’m going to write about finding out what the real problem was.

For as long as I can remember I have always NOT enjoyed writing conflict/battle scenes. I tend to skip over the top of them when I read published novels, because I’m not interested in this part of the story. I suppose I want to skip over them when I’m writing too. However, I have written smaller – contained – fight scenes that don’t go on forever. I don’t particularly like them, but I manage. Where I have a problem is the conflict scenes that are on a much larger scale. You know the ones I mean – the Lord of the Rings or Magician type battles.

That narrowed things down for me a bit. It has nothing to do with genre, or what I had for breakfast, or my doubts about my writing…it has something to do with the actual battles in my stories. But what?

Then a friend asked me what magic my antagonist and protagonist could do. And then I was asked to describe that magic from a non-magical person’s point of view.

Excellent questions if he had asked someone who knew the answer. But he didn’t ask someone else, he asked me and he was referring to my story, which is something I should know ALL about. Right? Wrong!

Now we’re getting to the real problem. I don’t know anything…and I mean anything…about my world’s magical system. Is it any wonder I sit in front of the computer and play Minesweep or Pinball instead of writing? How can a writer weave their magic when they don’t know anything about magic? I’ve been writing long enough to know that it can’t be done. “Write what you know” means that if you haven’t done it personally, then research it until you can convince people you have. I’m a planner by nature, yet I completely pushed the details of this important scene to one side in the hope that it would write itself. And believe me…I waited for that to happen.

A simple question lead me to doing what I should have done before I started writing the short story…I researched magic. I built a magical system, I created attack and defence spells and I feel as if I can now tackle the scene because of it. In fact, the scene is three quarters written.

Here are some of the websites I visited in order to get me started in magic spells, systems, types, and how to put it all together. I hope you learn from them as much as I did.

The Rules of Matrin’s Magic by Holly Lisle – I think she’s talking about magic in one of her books, but it’s a good read for anyone wanting to use magic in their own story.

Tolkien, Fantasy and Magic by David Grubbs – This is talking about magic in the Tolkien series, but, again, it’s worth a read.

Spells of Dungeons & Dragons – Even though this one is written about Dungeons & Dragons, it will give you ideas about type of spells that your world might have.

How to Murder Your Muse

A muse is similar to a witch’s familiar, which is usually associated with a black cat. The cat is a companion to the witch, but it doesn’t do the work of the old hag (although it can be a pair of extra eyes, which I suppose she could find helpful). A muse on the other hand is meant to fill the writer with extraordinary ideas and help the words flow like the gushing waters over a waterfall. In other words, the muse is using the unsuspecting writer and is writing the novel through them.

I’m not sure I like that idea. When I finish my manuscripts I want to know that all that hard work is actually mine, and that I haven’t been something else’s vessel to get the work done.

To be honest, I’m not even sure I believe in muses but if you insist you do have a muse and you really want to be rid of it, how do you murder that pesky presence?

You could try to trap the little devil, but I haven’t heard of anyone being successful in this task. Muses are adept at hiding just when you need them most. In fact, they take great delight in playing hide and seek and will often disappear for days, if not weeks, at a time.

You could fool it into believing you’re not ready to sit down and write, because a muse loves to appear at those times. It knows the writer gets frustrated and annoyed when it’s an inconvenient moment and that gives the muse a thrill. The excitement is heightened when the writer has absolutely nothing to write on too. Oh, how the muse enjoys that.

I must hang my head in shame, because I’m not able to tell you how to actually “murder” your muse. I wouldn’t want the authorities knocking on my door and accusing me of being the mastermind behind such an act. I believe the best line of attack is to go the other way – ignore it completely. Every time it shows its ugly head, push it to one side and don’t listen (and you’ll feel a certain amount of enjoyment after doing this for a while). The muse, however, will find this treatment intolerable. A word of warning, muses have a temper and it’s quite amusing to watch them stamp their feet and shout profanities so you’ll have to keep your own amusement in check. If you are strong enough to do this for a prolonged period (a couple of weeks should do it) then the blighter will pack up and leave.

You see, a muse wants everything its own way. It’s not interested in your plans (especially fast approaching deadlines) and it certainly doesn’t care about the assorted ideas you have. The muse looks down at its vessel as being inferior and…well, to put it bluntly…stupid. The writer must do as the muse directs or all Hell breaks out. It’s that simple.

However, we writer types know we are not inferior and we certainly are not stupid. If we sit down and think about it carefully, we don’t need the muse. All the muse is doing is dictating when we can write and what we write about. We have our own ideas and once we rid ourselves of the fearsome muse, we’ll be able to write whenever we want…and what’s more, we’ll be able to write in peace.