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.


Moving is Distracting

Author’s Note:
This post was meant to post automatically, as were the other Camp NaNoWriMo posts. Clearly, internet and I have had some miscommunication but I will get the caught up over the next few days. Hopefully.

There is nothing quite like moving house to distract you. In fact, it is one of the most consuming distractions I have had in a long time. And it has quite effectively put writing well and truly on the backburner. Which is pretty awkward considering how well I’m doing with the short story challenge. Which is to say, I haven’t finished the second half of the first story yet. But I am working on it! Kind of…
All the chaos has given me a new appreciation for people who work and write, people who find the time in random moments to create something. So here I am, randomly awake an hour before my alarm, writing a blog post so I can get onto the wagon a few days before March.
March is Camp NaNoWriMo prep month. This year, I fully intend to prepare. By which I mean plan. Because  I am clearly not doing enough to get myself out of my comfort zone as it is.
To help me plan, I am bringing in a few new tools. Two are books, one is a piece of advice I’ve found in various quotes by successful authors.
The advice is to copy great works that you enjoy so you learn what it feels like to write like the great author themselves. I’m adjusting that and taking one of my favourite, out of copyright, novels and using it for the basis of the story and characters. I could be really mysterious here, but it’s Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. So many retellings of that storuly have gone well, I might have a chance of a less terrible vomit copy.
In order to develop new skills as a writer, I have lashed out and acquired the fairly new book The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester. Why? Because she taught Jim Butcher how to write stories better, and I am a fan of all his series so far. Perhaps importantly, he can plan in such a way that the story feels organic, but the layers that go into it on rereading a series are impressive. The Dresden Files is a great example of how you can use small, seemingly innocuous details to your advantage as a story teller. But that is a blog for another day.
The second book I’ve acquired is also fairly new, Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. This is based on the thriving Nerd Fitness website and community, but it fits really wel with some solid pyschology. Reading it makes me think of it as a resource for practising the habits in The Happiness Trap by Dr Ruff. The idea is that you find what’s important to you, and do the small things that make that big thing happen basically by accident. Or give yourself a deadline to work towards and create a reward or reinforcement system that works on psychology principles utilised in video games. Sounds a bit out there? There are reasons video games are popular, and a lot of it is based on what they do in our brain. So I’m taking advantage of someone else figuring out how to do it, so I can make the right thing easy. In this case, planning for Camp NaNoWriMo.
And while I’m doing all that, I am still going to work, painting and patching the house where it’s needed, and playing with my bunnies. Our new place has a great backyard, so I intend to get the bunnies out there for some vitamin d and explore time. For now, I’m letting them get settled in their new bunny enclosure and hoping I’ve protected the wood floors from their more destructive tendancies.


Dusty wanting to know if this is really the new place, Duchess convinced we have offered her grave insult but mindful that we also have carrots.

If the bunnies are sideways, I will figure that out when I have my computer moved. Smart phones are cool, but there is nothing quite like a computer for making sure things look right.

In the Gods’ Hands: Day 15-20

In the interest of getting things out the way so I can have a clear slate for the last 10 days of NaNoWriMo, here are the days I have missed so far.

On the up side, I’ve managed to write a whole 600 words on the novel! That’s right, it started! And I met a random dude named Rhet, so Rand and Rhet are having a cool drink and allowing me to have an exposition dump that will might slip past the usual cliches. Though not likely, Rhet seems to have this idea that making Rand state things plainly, or guess things based on their previous dealings, is hilarious. Hopefully, in the re-draft he’ll have a different name because Rand and Rhet are a bit close for my liking, but a random character arrived! Yay writing!

Day 15

ItGH Day 15

Day 16

ItGH Day 16

Day 17

ItGH Day 17

Day 18

ItGH Day 18

Day 19

ItGH Day 19

Day 20

ItGH Day 20


When I get some more of the things I need to get done ticked off, I will do some more word wars into the campaign that is NaNoWriMo 2013. Here’s hoping that adversity reveals characters.


In the Gods’ Hands: Day 7 and 8

So, I might have done that thing where the end of Week One ended up in a stumble and fall… I have done the dice, and some thinking, for the days that have gone between my last post and today, but I’m not going to bombarded this post with dice pictures. Mainly, because that’s just silly. There will just have to be some catching up in the pictures.

Day 7

The dice are cast again, getting new symbols

The dice are cast again, getting new symbols

Thankfully, I like those dice, and they have a bit to give me.

Day 8, and a smiling face!

Day 8, and a smiling face!


At this point, I would like to point out ghat I’ve managed to actually get some story to make sense! Well, I’ve managed to get up to Day 8 anyway.

I think once I’m caught up on the dice days, I might be able to put up a running synopsis. Maybe. Should the characters actually play…

The Upside of Deadlines

Lately, I’ve rediscovered something I knew about myself but forgot. I really like deadlines.
Not that I like having them looming over me, and the feeling of inexplicable terror when I first receive them is something to behold. I like them because they give me a frame to work around.
If I have a deadline, or seven depending on university, I know I have to portion time so that I can do things well. I could slap them together at the last minute, but that would be doing myself a major disservice. And I have learned that the ‘but I could have done it better’ is a perfectionist’s favorite self-judging stick. I may not be a perfectionist all the time, that would be exhausting, but sometimes I try it out just for fun. Which it’s not.
I say this all because I have found again the strangely satisfying moment after the deadline, when there is relief and a sense of achievement, and the promise that it can be done again.
Shame I can’t set my own deadlines.
Luckily, there are methods around that little snag, and I read it in Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!. If this book is unfamiliar, and you wan to write ridiculous amounts for no other reason than because it sounds awesome, get this book.
The people around you may not necessarily seem to care if you’re writing, but if you involve them and give them the chance to ask about your progress in such a way you have to be honest, the most unenthusiastic person can become inspiring. Honestly, sometimes I write just so that when people I barely see ask what I’m doing, I won’t be working on the same thing.
And that’s how I get my deadlines.
I make myself accountable to people I know, and trust to ask the uncomfortable question right when I least want to answer it. They don’t have to actively do anything more than a cursory question and a polite pause while I answer, but it helps.
Rewards for deadlines are also really help, but that’s a whole other post.

The real upside of deadlines this week. Baby bunnies are so cute!

Baby Bunny snuggles

Baby Bunny snuggles

Journal: That Story, 4/7/13

Today has been a surprisingly good day, for me and That Story. Much thanks for that must go to the comment I got on yesterday’s blog. Thank you!

I actually managed to get some words done, not that it’s reflected on my Camp word count at this stage. This, I have discovered, is what train trips to uni are for. And from uni, if I can get a seat.

Someone very much wiser pointed out to me that I was looking at the story all wrong, and what I should be looking for was ways to draw out tension and drama since I’m not used to the genre. Which, really, makes a lot of sense.

And on the way home, I encountered a rather interesting individual:

Jessica Kelly; Alicia’s older sister. She lives in the city with her boyfriend, and is making a niche for herself in marketing and PR. Ambitious, gregarious, she’s always tried to look after her little sister, but sometimes it can be very difficult to figure out what that is, so it’s much easier to just make her laugh and then that’ll make everything better. Determined to find the up side, because practice makes her job easier, Jess keeps in contact with her sister as much as she can around work, and her boyfriend. She’s thinking about buying an inner city flat, with her boyfriend, but she’s not sure about it. There is something in the wind with this one.

Now I have two characters! And we’re only in Week One! Good news!