Medieval Demographics Made Easy

It’s common for fantasy stories to have a medieval backdrop – castles, men (or women) on horseback and fire torches instead of battery operated torches. Of course, writers don’t have to use this setting. They can do whatever they want, because it’s fantasy! That’s the beauty of the genre.

Anyway, by accident I stumbled on a great resource for those of you who do have a medieval type world (like me). The page is called Medieval Demographics Made Easy and I believe it will help anyone get started on a world that is believable.

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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

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.

How to Plot Your Novel

I’ve been plotting novels and short stories for some years now, but that doesn’t mean I think I know everything that needs to be known on the subject. Because of this, I continually borrow books from the library, or purchase them if they are being sold at the right price, to ensure I’m not doing things the hard way, or I’m not forgetting to do something altogether.

I recently borrowed a book called How to Plot Your Novel by Jean Saunders. It’s a relatively old book, but in this case the content is still viable. I didn’t read the entire book (and rarely do with this type of book as I usually pick out the sections of interest to me), but I wanted to share – in point form – the main items I got from the book.

  • Find a theme you are passionate about.
  • Know the kind of book you want to write.
  • Keep the proposed length within publishing bounds and plot your novel to appeal to the widest audience.
  • Create good characters, who you know well, and who have real motivation and goals.
  • Learn how to ask yourself questions such as “What if…?”
  • Scenes and chapters should be linked together.
  • Throw the reader a curve now and then, without relying on coincidences.
  • Don’t allow your story to sag in the middle by sustaining pace and keeping control of your characters.
  • Dramatic scenes need their calming counterparts.
  • End your story without leaving loose ends, and leaving the reader feeling satisfied.

I believe the points outlined above are common sense, but should be reiterated often because it seems that many books being published these days are not paying attention to these important details. Hence, the quality of reading is lowered and the chance of the author becoming a best seller slim.

If you’re a writer and you can place a tick beside each of the above, then you’re off to a great start. Naturally, there are other items that could be put on the list too, but these are the essential ones, in my opinion.

BBC – Get Writing

Struggling Writer is always supplying his readers with great links, so I wasn’t surprised when I saw this one – BBC – Get Writing.

There are informative courses for beginners, intermediate and advanced writers in the Mini-Courses section. Also, if you browse The Craft, you’ll find heaps of helpful articles on all aspects of writing…including a number of genres too.

I haven’t browsed the courses, but I did take a look at a few of the articles and they are easy to read and well written. Go take a look.

Imagery in Writing

Stephen King’s article, Imagery and the Third Eye, is an excellent reminder that we must describe enough for the reader to “see” a picture in their mind.

I’ve always believed that we shouldn’t describe everything. It’s never bothered me if a reader sees something different to what I saw when I wrote the story, as long as they saw something and it left them feeling satisfied.

Why do I feel this way? We all come from different backgrounds, cultures, religions, countries. The house that I see in my mind, isn’t the house that you see in yours, because our neighbourhoods are different. Trees and flowers are different in my area to yours as well.

What is scary to me, may not be scary to you, so a good piece of writing needs to give the right elements so that the passage brings a scary image to both of our minds.

Yes, it’s a good article. Go read it to discover if you see images with your third eye.

Writing a Novel

Writing a novel is not an easy thing to do. You have put time and effort into your planning stages and built your character profiles, now it’s time to… write! Remembering what was said in Beginnings and Endings, let’s take a look at the middle.

    Constructing a Scene

    Every scene in a story has both a verbal and a nonverbal content. The verbal content is the storyline itself and the nonverbal content is the background you are creating. Every scene presents a problem of some kind for one or more characters, and shows us how the characters deal with that problem. That, in turn, shows us something about the characters and moves the story ahead.

    A scene may be a paragraph or two, or it may take up 10 or 15 pages, whatever it takes to get the message across. When it ends, the reader should know more about the characters involved, and their problems should have increased.

    Try not to make the scene too ‘busy’ with characters. The reader will loose track of who’s who and become quickly confused. Even if there are a lot of people in the scene, there’s no need to name each and every one of the them.

    When writing you must try not to tell your reader what is happening but place an image into their imagination so that you are showing them. A scene cannot, and should not, be just words on a piece of paper. You should be conveying something that the reader can actually see in their own mind, and hopefully, they can even picture themselves in the crowd. You know you’ve succeeded when the reader feels that have experienced the hardship, courage, terror, love along with your character.

      Some Simple Suggestions when Writing

      • Keep your writing simple and straightforward. Say what you want to say in the clearest and most direct fashion.
      • Avoid long words if shorter ones are available.
      • Avoid cluttering your work with too many adjectives, adverbs, metaphors and similes. Try not to overwhelm your narrative with descriptions.
      • Avoid cliches. Most readers find these very annoying.
      • Select the right tense for your story and be consistent. All verbs must agree with the chosen tense.
      • Repetition of a word or phrase can be highly effective when trying to emphasis something but try to avoid overdoing it.
      • Try to choose strong words as these words usually have more meaning.
      • Wherever possible, avoid the passive tense. Have your characters do something, rather than have something done to them.
      • Vary your writing. Contrast will highlight the strengths and don’t forget to vary sentence structure and length.
      • Good writing should be fluent. The easiest way to find out if your story is fluent is to read it out loud.

        Conquer Writer’s Block

        Someday you’ll face the dreaded affliction known as “writer’s block”. You may suffer this ‘afflication’ for a day, a week or a month (let’s not even consider the possibility of a full year!). All writers fall prey to writer’s block at some stage but you can do something about it. Here are some things to try that are sure to get your mind working and your fingers typing:

          Start a Journal – Keeping a journal is one of the most effective ways of combating writer’s block. Write honestly about what you’re sensing or experiencing. Are you angry? Sad? Euphoric? Why? Be as specific and descriptive as possible. Don’t set limits on the frequency or length of your entries; instead, concentrate on consistently writing in your journal, whether it be daily, weekly or monthly. Remember – no one else will read this prose so it doesn’t matter how rough it is or whether the sentances are structured correctly. You can use your own thoughts later to get an idea moving.

            Use your Powers of Observation – If you don’t watch people go about their daily affairs already, start doing it now. Begin by writing down expressions and mannerisms of members of the general public engaged in daily activity. Note any habits that could be used as an effective “tag” for your fictional characters. Carry a small notepad and record not only people’s characteristics or witticisms, but the surroundings, as well. People tend to behave differently depending on whether they’re attending church or attending a football game. Write down information about the flora and fauna of your hometown surroundings, as well as any areas you visit on vacation. Observe the similarities of people living in small towns, mid-sized cities or large, sprawling urban areas. Use these simples notes and observations as a springboard for setting in your next story.

              Use Magazines and Newspapers – This might sound silly but it works. Cut pictures from magazines and newspapers. Anything that strikes your fancy. Use both people and objects, as well as beautiful scenery that inspires you. Pin the clippings on a cork board near your computer to give your mind a bit of a sick along. A mental image will form and then you can ask yourself who, what, why, where, when and how. Who is the little girl in the picture, and where are her parents? What is her hometown like, and how long has she lived there? When is she due home for dinner, and why is she happy/sad in the picture? Sometimes this is just enough to get your creative mind back on track.

                Don’t Write! – That’s right… leave your computer and do something else for a while. Sometimes your body and your brain just needs a rest. So, go for a walk or do some gardening. Take the kids to the park or spoil yourself and go shopping. The key here is to relax. Stop trying to come up with the perfect idea that will sell a million copies in the first month of release. Leave your computer, relax and don’t write. When you do return to your computer it will probably be because the idea is already there and you just have to write it down… and keep on writing!

                Building a Fantasy World

                It’s your story so why not create your own world.

                Personally, the thing I especially like about writing fantasy novels is the opportunity to create my own world. The people and the place can be exactly how I want them to be because it is a fantasy world, I don’t have to follow rules. The world, as we know it, is shoved in a dark corner somewhere and a brilliant new world is built from scratch.

                Some people hardly think about the world in which their story is set and just make it up as they go along. This, however, leave room for major errors unless detailed notes are taken along the way. Others have a wishy washy idea about what they want but nothing set in concrete. Then there are those that believe that this is one area of your writing that you should invest a lot of time and effort into. I fall into the last catagory and I really do believe that you will get a lot of personal satisfaction from doing it right before you start writing your novel.

                During this process, you may discover that you develop something much bigger than you’ll ever use in your novel but that doesn’t matter. The more solid your world is in your own mind, the more you will be able to portray that world to your readers and the more believable it will become.

                How to Get Started

                First, ask yourself the obvious questions like:

                Where will the story take place?
                How much ground will the story cover?
                What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area?
                How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.?
                Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own?
                Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Maybe it won’t be used at all.

                Go here for more world building questions.

                The Map

                This is important, you need a map. If your story stays in the boundaries of one house, you need to draw a floor plan showing each and every room, show windows, doors, hallways, staircases.

                If your novel is built around a town. Draw a map of the whole town. Name the streets, show parks, shops, houses, alleys, local hang outs, schools and all other areas of importance to your story.

                If your novel is based in a fantasy world. Draw a map of the entire world. Show lakes, rivers, towns, mountain ranges, you can mark explored and unexplored territories and any other areas relating to your story. Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.

                Preparing a detailed map before you start working on your novel makes it easier when you need to know where your characters are heading, or what you’ve said is at the end of the street, or what will be found in a particular room. Basically, it takes the guess work out of the writing and leaves you to concentrate on more important things.

                The Inhabitants

                Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans?

                Make detailed lists describing each inhabitant and what their role in your story is. If you have non-human characters you will need to know what form they take. You could even draw pictures of what they look like but this is entirely up to you (and your ability to draw!)

                You also need to think about basic things like how time passes and how distance is measured. Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?

                Cultures

                There are many different people in our world and just as many different cultures so in your fantasy world it would be reasonable to say that the same thing would apply.

                Referring to your list of inhabitants, define their individual cultures. Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants as well as clashes amongst all of the inhabitants.

                For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Will the other people (the non users) feel resentful? Now think about another race in your world, perhaps they live underground. They have their own social hangups with each other but they also want to enslave the magicians for their own reasons. Would this dilemma force the community who use magic to stand together or would the non-users turn their backs on their own kind?

                Once you have decided these types of things, you will be providing yourself with a solid foundation for when you start building your character’s personalities.

                Your Characters

                You have a world and the final step you have to take is to populate that world with characters. You’ve already provided the basis of these characters by the conflicts you’ve decided on. Now you can start to build on their individual personalities.

                Go here to find out more on Characterisation

                World Building Questions

                Here are some questions to help you get started:

                Where will the story take place? Will it be a magical world? Will there be demons, witches, ogres, made up animals?

                How much ground will the story cover? Will you need to draw a map to keep things in perspective? How long will it take to travel to whole of the land?

                What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area? What are the dangers? Where should your characters avoid? Where are they safe?

                How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.? Do you have technology? Is your world more medieval?

                Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own? Are they dangerous? Can you characters defend themselves against them?

                Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Are there limits to the powers? Are there consequences when magic is used? Maybe it won’t be used at all.

                Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans? Write about each variety of creature/human in as much detail as possible so that you know them inside out.

                Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?

                Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants and amongst all of the inhabitants. For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Think about religion and politics too and how these things affect your characters.

                Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.

                How do your characters travel the land? Are there only horses and wagons, or do they have trains and air craft?

                Think about the neighbouring kingdoms of your land. Are the inhabitants friendly or hostile? Do the kingdoms trade goods, fight, have different beliefs?

                Consider doing a timeline, showing the history of your world for the last 200 or 300 years. Make sure you include at least one major event in each 100 years.

                You Want to Write

                Why do you want to write? Is it to escape the world in which you live, to entertain other people, because you want to see your name on a shelf in a bookshop or simply because you enjoy the craft. Whatever the reason, if you want to write… write! However, take the time to work out your storyline, to identify with your characters and know the industry, just to name a few very important issues.

                I hope the information found on these pages will help you do this and will be a stepping stone to you reaching your goal. Click on “Writing” in the navigation bar at the top of the page to see the list of categories on writing.