Character Audition Alternative

Auditioning or ‘casting’ characters is an increasingly common tool in the writing community, and one that a lot of people find useful. Sterling and Stone have a whole post about how they go about it!

And, it was part of the exercises for Writing Excuses Season 10. Which means I had to do it for the first time ever.  But, I was out of spoons for prose writing, so I came up with a much less creative alternative!

What follows is my first attempt at a process that made sense to me. Because there are so many rabbit-holes to go down and paths to follow, and I’m not really a visual person so I thought I’d just flail at it.

Which lead to the discovery that my Google-fu is still terrible, and that I didn’t have the brain-power to translate acting advice to fictional characters.

Luckily, I have a favourite random generator site, and I just started there.

Five random male and female short bios later, I had something to work with, and I went Google Image searching. Because I can’t imagine what people look like. Which is why I usually skip character descriptions and people couldn’t pick my characters out of a lineup…

If you want to see the pictures, here is a link to the Pinterest board.

So, since I don’t want to write 10 different versions of the same scene, because my brain is not on board with that, I went with a more analytical approach. Below are the responses I had to the pictures of the female characters.

Bianca is obviously a no-nonsense sort of girl. She’s got that ‘are you serious?’ look, and I really like that about her. It makes me think she’s sassy, and also likely to smile if you get her sense of humour.

Jesse’s picture tells me she’s thoughtful, controlled, and won’t back down because you think she should. I like that start of a smile, and I think that she would be fairly contained and distant. Which makes throwing her ex into the mix a nice way to shake things up.

Claire I picked because she looks like she can see right through whatever you’re trying to pull, and is waiting for you to get with the program. She’s got this. Whatever ‘this’ is, and she will see this through. I like that determination, and once again, the distance between her and the viewer will be nice to ruffle with shenanigans.

Alexandra has a soft expression, and I like the vulnerability there. What I also think is interesting about the image is that she isn’t being coy. This is deliberate. And I like that balance in accepting and using that vulnerability. Just because she’s got a soft spot doesn’t mean it’s a weakness. It also reminds me of ‘feign strength where there is weakness, and weakness where there is strength’.

Grace’s picture is too young, technically, but I really liked that open studying in her expression. She looks like she is listening, and hearing far more than you would expect her to, and will use that information to the best of her abilities. Don’t underestimate her. It will cost you.

Now that I have initial impressions, I can make entirely arbitrary decisions about them based on the things I need for my story.

So, that means looking at the tropes I’m leaning into, Declaration of Protection, and the genre conventions for modern fantasy and paranormal romance.

The Protagonist needs to be a capable, determined sort, with a soft spot that they protect but the Romantic Lead fits in perfectly.

Because I want to play with Declaration of Protection, I decided the characters that looked vulnerable were the best suited. That’s Alexandra and Grace.

And, because I have limited spoons, I went with Alexandra because her picture is the right age, and my lived experience is likely to be closer to hers than Grace’s. When I have more spoons, and I’m looking at stretching my character research and skills, I will find a story for Grace. This is not that project.

Keep in mind your project parameters, this helps making the decisions less emotional.

From there, I went back to the other details about Alexandra and decided what to keep and what wouldn’t work so well.

I like that she’s a programmer, that her favourite season is spring, and her favourite sin and virtue. I think someone who knew the repercussions of magic in my world would definitely be careful about dating, and would know the shenanigans that comes from being vain but also find it hilarious.

What I need to change is her household, since this is a romance and having a fiancee only fits genre conventions if she’s an asshat and I don’t want to do that. So, I took Claire’s household and now Alexandra has a cat and two dogs.

I also need to adjust her ‘annoyed by/sucker for’ in order to really play on them in the story. Jesse’s annoyed by/sucker for of elaborate schemes/romantic things were a great fit. We all know Aphroditie has an elaborate, romantic plot happening here and I can definitely play with that.

So, the ‘winner’ of the audition process for the female character was a modified Alexandra.

I did exactly the same with the male leads. And I won’t go through those, because it’s literally writing down my impressions of them, and what it means that I will be instinctively likely to expect them to do and if I felt I can manipulate that to my story-telling advantage.

What I did find interesting was I got stuck between Trevor and Nick, and it wasn’t until I really asked which one I would prefer to be the MC/Protag that it cleared it up. Because I’d already picked Alexandra, my brain was telling me to find a good Romantic Lead for her. Which is a different character type to the Protagonist.

The ‘winner’ of the male leads was a modified Trevor. In part because of the same factors that helped pick Alexandra. What I changed here was his ‘Sucker for’, and his household. Just to meet the genre conventions.

The Short Version
Work out what the parameters of your project are.
Identify the role you’re trying to fill.
Examine the assumptions you have about a character, and those you would expect the reader to have. See what you can pull at in unusual ways. Repeat for each potential character.
Be aware of the wider genre conventions, and if you want to lean in or subvert them.
Be really clear about the role and what challenges that presents for the character.
Interrogate your responses.
If all else fails, use dice to pick and see how you feel about the result.

Now, this is not the kind of auditioning that the Writing Excuses podcast suggested.  But, it is the only kind of ‘audition’ my brain was happy to do this week.

It does rely on more analysis than creative feel, but if you’re stuck even getting anyone into the room to audition, maybe this will help.

Persian cat laying upside-down on a black chair.
Sometimes, a little change of perspective can help.

Time to Choose: Writing Excuses 10.3

This post is actually based on Episode 4, because Episode 3 was on Lovecraftian Horror, and I’m pretty okay with leaving my stories largely light and fluffy rather than mind-breaking.

Today, the cast answered a lot of good questions about the idea generation process, and made me feel a whole lot better about a history of fanfiction and a desire to do fairytale retellings.

And then they gave the homework: Pick one of the ideas you’re excited about, then audition five characters for the lead role. By writing a scene of them doing a dead-drop.

To say I was slack-jawed with overwhelm at that moment was probably accurate, but since I’m determined to actually stick to this goal darnit, here we go.

The first part, picking what I’m excited about, was a little tricky. Which I count as a good thing since I am supposed to be really into all my ideas. And, as I looked over both my original story skeletons and my modified ones, I realised that the new ones were really interesting. Most of them had more conflict, more layers, than the originals, and that made me more determined to keep trying things.

Now, I will be completely honest, my decision-making process to pick a story was pretty arbitrary.

I had four stories.

I was happy with the skeleton on one, the goats, because it was designed to be a short story. So, that left three.

Both the magical masquerade stories are fascinating, and could realistically be in the same world if I nudge the world-building right. But, I do have notes on a world that I wanted to build specifically for the purposes of testing writing processes, and it uses divine magic.

I don’t have the world-building in place for the bigger sci-fi, though it does make me want to go do it, so that leaves two.

So, that means I am going with the Divine Masquerade and Interfering Gods.

What could go wrong?

Many things. Lots of them. Better not to consider that too much right now…

Onward, to auditions!

The most obvious choice to audition was the Main Character/Protagonist. If I get a good one of those, I should be able to work the story around them a lot more easily than a lead character who is kind of wishy-washy.

This is where I found the first stumbling block, because I kept asking myself questions… Given the story skeleton, there is no reason that the MC had to be female. Which meant I felt it necessary to audition 5 female and 5 male characters. If I was really stretching myself, the characters could have been non-binary as well. But, since this is a process practise, I decided to let the lazy version of ‘write what you know’ dictate that the characters are heterosexual in this instance.

Given my mental flailing at the first hurdle for character creation for auditions, I took out all but the most necessary decisions. I got short character bios from Chaotic Shiny, I found images from the internet and shoved them on a Pinterest board, and made entirely arbitrary decisions about who would be the MC.

What I did do was a whole post about it, here.

And I noted my personal biases and what that means for me. Because as a writer, I should know myself in some pretty interesting ways so that I can manipulate reactions in myself, and thus hopefully the reader.

With my final pair of characters standing for the audition, Alexandra and Trevor, I attempted to write. My poor attempts at the dead-drop prompt ended with barely six lines total, and more uses of the word ‘thing’ than was helpful…

I went back to the tropes. To get the most out of the tropes, I decided on the female lead. She gives me the chance to subvert tropes, lean into tropes, and just generally muck around with things.

So, now I have Alexandra. And I am really looking forward to getting to know her next month.

Persian cat on chair staring off into the middle distance
Abbey sharing a brain-fog moment with me.

It’s Time To Dig! Week Two Writing Excuses Season 10

I’ve made it to Week Two of Writing Excuses Season 10!

This week they’re talking about how to take the idea from last week and turn them into something that might have an actual story.

And the podcast is brilliant at helping techniques to dig deep into an idea and find something that is unique or interesting, or something that actually has conflict in it as opposed to neat ideas that are just interesting.

The short version: Ask yourself what you really liked about the idea, break it into bits, and see if you can go a couple of levels away from the original idea. That’s going to really help make the idea feel fresh, and reduce the likelihood of it being low-hanging fruit.

So, the homework. It’s time to do things to the ideas you had from last week. Apply one of these each idea until all the ideas have been modified.

  • Mash two ideas together
  • Change the underlying genre
  • Change the ages and genders of all the characters you had in mind
  • Have the character make an opposite choice

Mash Ideas Together

This sounds like fun, and it is, but, honestly, it’s the one I struggle with the most. I could mash up a lot of them, but I had a feeling that I was missing the obvious choice.

Until I started to look for similarities in genre/world and the presence of conflict.

My Interviewand Observation stories were pretty similar in the tone, and the hidden magical world, and didn’t have as much clarity of conflict as they could.

So, I decided to put the protagonists into direct conflict, and add layers of internal conflict. Jacqueline takes the job offer, which is to act as a body-guard to someone who is looking for the seedlings Jamie has been collecting. And the person she’s guarding is determined that Jamie is a threat, and wants him ended. Jacqueline has to work out how not to kill him while keeping him out of the world she’s found herself in, because it’s way darker than she imagined.

The new story skeleton reads:

When a stranger offers her a job in a park in the middle of the night, Jacqueline thinks it’s the chance she needs. But when it drags her into a world where unauthorised knowledge is a death sentence, can Jacqueline find a way to save the naive Jamie from death, or something worse, because of a few random seedlings?

Change the Genre

Now, I automatically excluded the goats story from this since it already had a particular genre it needed to be. I really like modern fantasy, so I was hesitant to change the other, but I took a closer look at Alexander and his self-discovery shenanigans.

Originally, I was thinking fantasy fairytale retelling. But, you know what’s like magic but dressed in different clothes? Science-fiction. Now, if I indulge my soft sci-fi preference, and aim for a solarpunk optimism, it does feel pretty fairytale. Which I love.

What if Alexander is actually experiencing the wider stellar world and that gives him a whole new understanding of the complicated system?

Modified story skeleton:
When the love of his life rejects his marriage proposal because he’s too sheltered by his family’s wealth, Alexander decides to find a way to go and live planet-sided and prove he’s got what it takes. But life dirt-side isn’t what he thought it was, and Alexander has to deal with discomfort, hard work, and the true cost of the system he’s been benefiting from on the people less lucky than himself.

Change Genders and Ages

Due to the constraints on the goat story, this was the best fit for it. Instead of a young woman, staying on her family farm and integrating tech and tradition, it’s going to be an older man who is used to doing both. Because as much as the old, experienced hand is a trope in the genre of farming stories, there is an idea that goes with that in which the older generation won’t take up the new tech. And while there are people this applies to, a lot of farmers are really into helping scientists and making life better for their stock and land. , honestly, I think there are some people that applies to. So, now the protagonist of that story is an older gentleman. Done.

Adjusted story skeleton:
When the goats haven’t returned to the dairy, and the sky is telling of a tempestuous winter storm coming up the plains hard, Edward takes the task of going to find them on himself. Can he find his stubborn herd before the storm hits? Or will the unexpected storm render the drones useless, and strand them all until the chaos passes?

Make the Opposite Choice

Oh boy. Bianca is the only one left. Which means that she has to; not protect high school ex in the club, not keep him from the knowledge of the magical world from him, or keep him close instead of distant.

So, given she knows a lot about the magical world and the likely interference of the deities, instead of keeping him distance, she’ll keep him close. Not necessarily include him in the world, but definitely not get him out of the club and back to his usual life. After all, once you’re touched by a deity, there isn’t a whole lot of normal your life is going to be after that.

New story skeleton:
When her high school sweetheart suddenly appears in the middle of a sidhe club, Bianca has to move fast to get him out. But when she gets the sense of magic on him, divine magic, everything changes and Bianca has to find a way to use a teenage promise to their combined advantage instead of it being a total liability.

So, those are the updated story skeletons. We’ll see what the next step is soon. But for now, tea, and fluffy animals.

How did you go adjusting your story ideas? Was one of them harder than the others? Let me know how you found it.

Coffee table with a notebook and pen, cup of tea, glass of water, and a sleeping Persian cat.
All the important writing tools on hand

It Begins! Taking on the Writing Excuses Season 10 Masterclass.

Another year, another set of very enthusiastic writing goals! Of which I have many, but I am going to be using January to work out what is actually realistic so that I don’t end up with lofty goals and no realistic chance of achieving them. Been there, done that, have the blog posts to prove it.

But, I do have one that I think is pretty realistic, and that’s to do the Writing Excuses Season 10 masterclass. I need to learn more about process, and this free writing course-styled podcast series is pretty perfect for it. And the people are experts, so that’s a definite win. So, I’ll be working on keeping myself accountable by doing the homework

Week One is all about idea generation. Which is handy, because my brain is so mush after the Christmas/New Year period.

The homework for this episode is to come up with five story ideas, up to 150 words, from different sources; interview, research, observation, media, and music.

So, taking the Jim Butcher story skeleton idea, I came up with the following:

  • Interview: Just when Jaqueline thinks things can’t get worse, she has to deal with some clearly overly confident young men in a park. But, when her life really does seem to be taking every chance to make things worse, could the job offer from a stranger in a park be her way out, or a path to a world of dangers she couldn’t imagine?
  • Research: When the goats don’t make it back to the dairy on time, Elle decides to go and find them. Will she succeed when there is a storm coming, and the drone are having opinions about working in the tempestuous Australian winter?
  • Observation: When it’s spring, and the seedlings scattered by the wind start growing, Jamie goes about collecting the small plants to make his apartment less stark. They’re from common land, so no one will miss them, right? Except some of the plants aren’t meant for normal people to see, and someone is looking for the seedlings Jamie acquired.
  • Media: When the woman Alexander loves rejects his marriage proposal, not because she doesn’t love him but because he’s been living off his family’s wealth without finding his own way in the world, he sets out to find his passion. Can this path to self-discovery prove to his love that he is worthy?
  • Music: When her high school sweetheart suddenly appears in the middle of a sidhe club, Bianca has to move fast to get him out safely. But can she keep him ignorant, and protected, when it seems there is a diety insisting on him keeping his teenage promise of always being there for her when she needs him?

Some of these are a little more guided than others. The research one is based on trying to fit an open submission for a short story competition, and I’ve been playing with the music one for a while now so I had a head start there. Regardless, that’s the homework done.

And just in time for another cup of tea, and some fluffy animal pats.

What ideas did you come up with?
Which source was the easiest to get inspired by? Which one was the hardest?

Update May 2018

This is a hard post to write.

It’s not really about writing. It’s not going to be about looking forward to projects or making ridiculously optimistic posting schedules.

This post is about the things lining up to make writing difficult for me at the moment. And what I’m trying to do to get past them.

Why? Because I need the record. I’ve discovered, since coming off medication for chronic pain, that I am not as good at remembering what it was like being in those mindsets as I thought. The hard things have softened in my memory, the triumphs lost their shining edge.

So, this post is about the current shenanigans my brain is throwing my way, and what it’s doing to, well, everything.

In July 2017, I had the immense privilege of being in a pain management program to come off medication for chronic pain and become self-managed. I was thrilled. I threw myself into the three-week course with enthusiasm.

But, as with most good things, there were unexpected results. The pain lessened, which is so amazing I cannot describe it, but I was incredibly dizzy and nauseous in that last week.

And then the week after. And the one after that. And onward for months.

There were many ideas about what it could be, but time ruled them out. It couldn’t have been coming off the meds, because it should have settled by now. We tried neurophysio for the vestibular system. It helped, but it clearly wasn’t that.

So, six months after the course I ended up at a neurologist who reassured me that it wasn’t a problem. It was just PPPD, Persistent postural-perceptual dizziness. Which basically means my brain did the thing where it was enthusiastic in the wrong direction, and ended up with a maladaptive response. And everything that involved looking or moving, or watching things move, resulted in a dizziness response. Everything.

I couldn’t read, not even a menu, without my stomach turning and my eyes blurring.

I couldn’t write, or dictate, or touch type.

I couldn’t drive.

I couldn’t do anything that meant moving my head. Which is a long and gloriously mundane list when you’re short…

Needless to say, that made me feel sick, tired, anxious, and starting to wonder what I had left once activities like, Life, were crossed off my list of things I could do.

Then I got in to see a wonderful CBT, who specialises in PPPD, and has got me trying to train my brain with graded exposure.

I can read, in 10min blocks. And since I discovered that I have no self-control, that means non-fiction books for me. Seriously, how are you supposed to read good fiction for just 10mins at a time! Madness!

I can write, in 10min blocks. But no more sets of 10/5/10/5/10/5… 10mins, then as much rest as I need to let my brain realise we didn’t have a near miss with disaster. At least, not a life-threatening disaster. Literary disaster is totally fine.

I can drive, and have to find places to go to increase my range. Yay new places to go!

And I have to keep track of how head movement impacts me, and what that means for the symptoms.

So, of course, I overdo everything, and end up in the middle of a well-deserved flair right as I’m starting to get to things again. Yay.

But, 10mins a day of words is still somewhere between 300-500 words. And I’m not going to sneeze at it. It’s more than I have been doing for the last five months. I’ll take it and be glad of it.

And write blog posts, and little things that don’t require keeping an entire fantasy novel in my head to do it.

But I do miss being able to do that. Or just make stuff up on the fly. It turns out when your brain is determined that it has to make all this dizziness for A-Good-Reason,-I-Promise, there isn’t a whole lot left over for the other things…

So, I'm napping then, apparently.

Leo and Abbey take their duty as rest helpers very seriously.

Surprise! It’s Camp!

And here I am again, determined to do all the things I always say I am definitely going to do. I am starting to think my writer’s New Year is the first Camp NaNoWriMo. It certainly seems to get me making resolutions, and taking steps to achieve them.

So, here we are again, and I’m back to trying to get my head around writing. Which is harder this year since my brain has picked up a new fun trick, persistent dizziness! I’ve got to the stage where I’m just trying to do the things I want to do, and ignoring the dizziness. It’s a bad plan. I’ll get a new, better plan. Maybe tomorrow…

This Camp, I am almost entirely unprepared. Thankfully, I’d listened to a podcast that had some resources to help me out! The Hybrid Author podcast mentioned The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot by Marg McAlister with enough fervour, I decided it had to be able to get me some semblance of an outline. And, lo, it did. It helped so much I also read her The Busy Writer’s One Hour Character, and did the exercises in both books to get me in a good headspace for starting my Camp NaNoWriMo project.

Tomorrow, I will work on a synopsis. And adding detail to the characters and plot, but mainly because there is a lot of driving time and not so much drafting time. Thinking definitely counts as writing time, even if it doesn’t put words on the page for NaNoWriMo just yet.

Thankfully, I’ve set the modest goal of 30k words for the month, so I won’t be terrifyingly behind by the time I get to sit down and put fingers on keys.

Here’s hoping your writing projects are being cooperative.

I promise, any cats in the story will be awesome.

Abbey is very serious in her encouragement.

Lyrica brain mush

I am coming off Lyrica. Slowly. Off a tiny, tiny bit. And my brain is so fried, I can’t promise this will make sense. But I have to write this. I have to remember that when I am like this, when my brain refuses to find words at all and I can’t remember to put on the sock in my hand, that I still am.

Isn’t that a funny thing? That I need to do this so I know I am? And not even right now, because right now I am moving my fingers over the keyboard in teh blind hope ‘muscle memory’ will do this for me. That it will take the thoughts and feelings and put them out in ways that make sense. Ways that I can’t say, because at the moment I don’t think I can make much of a coherent conversation. I have lost nouns. I called hairbrush ‘the thing with the pointy bits that makes the icky tangle things go away’. My partner gave me the hairbrush and I smiled up at him like an exhausted child home from a day at the zoo.

Or I might not have. My brain could have made that whole thing up. I don’t know. It could have made up that we went to the market this morning and I didn’t desperately crave donuts. It could have put a pretty little story in there, and I can’t tell the difference between that and anything else. Because my brain is trying to work out what to do without one less little pill of Lyrica.

I only had four. Four little white pills, two twice a day, and they were meant to make the pain stop. They were meant to make breathing okay. I think they did. But the put holws in my brain and I don’t know if I can fill them up again. I don’t know if I can stop the rest of my brain from falling into those holes, like those horrible sinkholes that appear and devour cars and roads and houses and suburbs. That last one might be a movie. I don’t know.

I am taking three little pills. Two, then one, and then the Endep for bed. And I think it’s going to make me better, coming off the little white pills. The doctors and psychologists and physios at the hospital who are so eager for me to do the pain course think so. They would know. They’ve got decades of research, and they’ve supervised the course numerous times. They would know. I think I forgot to tell them things. But what those things were are where the holes are, and I have no way of getting them back.

It’s July. The second. It’s Camp Nanowrimo. I love Camp. I wanted to write today. But I couldn’t remember the project, and I looked it up, and then I lost my pen, and something else happened. And I haven’t written words. Not ones on the story. I don’t remember the story. I know I put it up somewhere. It was a challenge. A push. I mean, not a big one. I was using for a purpose, this July Camp story. I used it to test something, but I don’t remember what. That’s in a hole too.

And at the bottom of my ribcage, the spots the doctors and physios called ‘trigger points’ tingle. Like the edges of the water when you drop in an Aspro-Clear. It starts off as nothing, just a little distortion on the surface. But you know more is coming. In that case, you want more to come because you can’t drink it until the whole lot is dissolved. But I will take the little blue Endep and the little yellow Endep, and they will stop it tingling.

They stop a lot of things, the little Endep pills. But the doctors aren’t worried about them yet. One drug at a time. One little white pill at a time. Check ins. And I will take notes. If I remember. I will take notes so I can give the doctors what they need. I don’t know what that is, but if I write things down, maybe it will help. Or maybe the things that help will be in those Lyrica pit-traps, so far into the blackness I can’t see them, so deep no rope will reach. Maybe that’s okay too.

Because I’m still here. Moments out of time, brief and sparkling clarity, starlight on the country-dark night sky. But here. That counts. You can learn a lot from that, right?

Mimic and Ash

Mimic was black and white. She changes coat every year. Funny pony.

World Building Discussion Notes

I have the good fortune to be in a writing group, and we discuss things! And I think those things are important, so here is a brief look at what we chatted about. And a picture so you can see how not organised we were.

worldbuilding board

White boards are great! All the ideas!

One of the first things we discussed was how much world building you actually need. Because there is such a thing as world-builder’s disease, and it does stop you writing.

That’s what Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient is up there for.

If you’re telling a Milieu story, your world is the most important thing in there. So you’re going to need to do a lot to ground it.

If it’s an Idea/Issue story, then you need to set up the different realities of your issue in the world, but you can get of more lightly.

Character your main focus? Then you’ll need enough so you know what made them who they are, what pushed them to do what they’re doing, and what sort of worldly obstacles they might face in addition to whatever your antagonist is doing. And if it’s a character story with the Hero vs World set up, you’ll need a bit more just to make it clear the antagonist is the setting.

Event stories need enough so you what lead up to the event, what the players are, and the outcomes of the event on the world.


What came out of that was the ideas of what tools you can use to really get started.

Don’t explain the every day. You don’t explain to someone how to open a door, unless you’re being sarcastic or there is an unusual situation at play. You don’t explain how to put on shoes and walk. There will be a lot of things that have mechanisms the characters are completely unaware of but they use the things every day. Like computers. And the Internet. And all sorts of things. What is normal for your characters?

What do your characters swear on/bu/to/as an expression? This will tell you so much about your characters, and their world, and add a little grounding to your world without exposition. And swearing is always a bit of fun. I am terrible at it, but it’s a skill to work on.

The style of language, like how formal or informal they are, is also important. It comes through in dialogue and helps make characters distinct very quickly. And remember that the tone of the narrative voice also informs the reader too, so keep that in mind.

How do they expression affection/respect/contempt/etc without words? What are the gestures or alternate phrases they use instead of just saying things bluntly? My Dad says ‘the car needs a wash’ instead of ‘I love you’, and that’s something that really changed my relationship with him when I realised that. Which means knowing that for your characters can be really important. Talk about ways to build conflict through innocent miscommunication.


That got us talking about what people need. And there are some great things we talked about, and they feed in through all the things we’d talked about earlier.

Knowing what the social norms and taboos are will help create social conflict, inform your language and characterisation choices, and make the world more real. A lot of cultures have similar basic norms and taboos, so you can create a sense of understanding or dissonance with your reader depending on what you want to do.

Stories about how the world works; creation myths, morality tales, explanations about how the world works and why, what things are safe and what are not and why. These all shape the world the characters deal with and what they know, what they will question and what they won’t, and how you can undermine or strengthen those understandings. We love cognitive dissonance, so it’s great to know about this stuff.

What do people gossip about?

Who are the cultural ‘bad guys’ that things get blamed on? Who are your scapegoats?

What are the essential elements? Water, food, electricity, magical ore? What do they need for daily survival, for social climbing, for trade and work? This will help work out what things could add pressure to a ticking clock scenario for you. If they don’t find the oasis, they will die of thirst in three days if they don’t get eaten by sand worms. Talk about motivation to find a resource!

Social status is also basically about resource management, so work out what they are trading to get power. How do they get higher on the social ladder? What does the social ladder look like in the first place? This is a big question, accidentally, but it does give you a heap of information. Keeping it tight to the characters will stop you falling into the huge mess that is society building.

Another thing that came up was the idea of ‘nuclear story telling options’, which I acquired from J. Daniel Sawyer. They’re things that change the world irrevocably. Nuclear power is one. The Pill, reliable birth control. Widespread literacy. These things have changed the shape of the world so much that it will not have the issues expressed the same way they were before the change. If you have things that reshape the world, they’re great to know.

And, of course, knowing the historical events and a large scale level, and the local level, will also give you an idea of what things have changed or are in the process of changing.


To get unstuck from a character doing something you have no idea about, we got two ideas.

Unleash your inner 5 year old! Ask, and answer, ‘Why?’ to a level of at least five ‘why?’s. Getting past the first three, you’re really starting to get some depth in your answers.

If… Then… is another idea. If something happens in a particular way, then something will happen in reaction. If a character does something, then it means something about who they are and what they  have been through. Fantastic tool for depth, and you can go forwards or backwards with it, or sideways, to find out enough to get you unstuck.


And, of course, there was a lot of discussion about resources we’ve used and liked.

Brandon Sanderson 321 YouTube series: For world building and general writing things.

Chaotic Shiny: Random generators galore, and some neat packs you can buy to have offline.

SFWA World Building Guide: They know what they’re talking about. Here’s a starting list of things to look at. Does what it says, gives you names. Because that’s a frustrating stuck point. There are also a lot of other things to look at, so explore away! More generators, because we love them.

Every Day Novelist podcast – J. Daniel Sawyer: He’s got some great ones on characterisation, and is where I got nuclear story telling options from, so I recommend him.

Tiddlywiki: For all your wiki needs so you can keep your notes organised. I am working on one, and it’s so unbelievably helpful. No more wondering whose cousin is who, it’s in the wiki!


I hope that is helpful, because let’s be honest, world building is really important and you can get a lot done with a small amount of focus if you know how much you need in the first place.

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part Six

If you’d like to start at the beginning, here are the links. Preparation, Week One, Week Two, Week Three, Week Four.

This is for when you’ve hit 50,000/your word count goal, or the end of the month happens. Whichever you get to first.

Baty has some closing words about how awesome you are for making it through, regardless of if you made the words or not. Because let’s be honest, a 50,000 word draft in a month is just creative madness when you’re starting out. And, when you adjust the goal to meet where you’re up to so it’s still a challenge then getting through is still amazing.

What I really liked was the part where Baty converted word count into book pages. That was a fantastic little bit of morale boost for the exhausted writer I was when I stumbled across the end word count goal I’d set.

Baty also reminds you to celebrate with the people who helped you make it over the line, or even as close to it as you got. And I intend to do that. After a nap. And some healthy food…

The other thing he talks about is the after-effects of finishing NaNoWriMo. Especially since there is an anecdotal evidence that there is a state of ‘post-novel depression’, and I have felt it too, and wrote this ramble about it. Having a bit of a guide to come back to the real world and finding ways to include writing in your normal life is also really helpful.

It’s also got some ‘now what do I do with this?’ advice, and since if you’re anything like me there is a giant pile of typo riddled manuscript, it’s reassuring that there is a plan. And that it’s okay to have stories that didn’t work.

What I really like about this version is the advice on how to revise your work It walks you through a process you can use if you haven’t done it before, and gives you a timeframe so it keeps the two main cornerstones of NaNoWriMo with you. You have a plan, and a deadline. They may look different, and you’ll have to learn how to get along with your Inner Editor, but it’s worth it.

And there is a final bit of advice that I think is so important I have to repeat it. It’s okay to just write for fun. People do all sorts of things for fun, and writing can by a recreational activity that you challenge yourself with. Writing can be enough. It doesn’t have to be publishable. It can just be for you.

Just writing because you want to is enough.


Even if you never intend to try and smash your way through a novel like a drunken goat through undergrowth, this book gives examples of some really handy mental tricks to get your writing, editing, and putting it all in perspective so it can stay fun. It also prepares you for the ups and downs of creative endeavour without glossing over the parts that suck.

This is definitely a book I will go back to, likely when I’m in the middle of the overgrown estate that is Week Two and Three, because it will remind me that Week Four is coming.
And that it’s really nice to write ‘The End’.


Bridget and I having a bit of a relax in her paddock. Getting up is overrated.

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part Five

Looking for the previous parts? Start here, then on to here, and here, and then this one.

It’s Week Four! The end is, theoretically, in sight!

And Baty is nice enough to give an estimate of how many writing hours there are left if you are doing other things like working and sleeping. Sixteen hours. 16 hours. To finish the novel. Baty is about confident you can do it. So confident, he advises going and getting champagne or its appropriate substitute already.

Which is in part because Week Four is make or break time. And it can be really tempting to just call it early and let yourself move forward at your own pace. I bet you can guess how Baty feels about that by now.

There are tips for coping with holidays should it be a problem for your month of choice, reassurances that the plot will start moving again, and some hints about where to find ideas if your mind has turned to mush.

There are, naturally, tips on how to either carry on the momentum or stretch out the manuscript to hit the magical 50,000 words, and some exercises to give a boost and mental break. After all, that final mad dash to the finish line and victory is practically a NaNoWriMo staple.

And, thankfully, there are words of wisdom from people who have been there and have various levels of completion once Week Four hits.

And just to get you enthused, Baty has even included some glimpses of what your life may look like on the other side of writing The End!

Week Four is a glorious, messy slog to the finish line. But as Baty pointed out, if you do things for twenty hours a day, there are still four you might be able to leverage to your writerly advantage. And a lot of words can be written in that time.


Trust your Plot Bunny. It’ll be fine!