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.

Reddit.com/r/worldbuilding

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.

Fantasynamegenerators.com: 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!

Springhole.net: 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.

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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’.

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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.

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Trust your Plot Bunny. It’ll be fine!

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part Four

There are three earlier parts here; the preparation, Week One, and Week Two.

Week Three. Back into it!

This is where the word debt gets recovered, and the momentum comes back. Hopefully.

And, as always, there are good warnings about the nature of the challenge and the difficulties that can bring too. Because the idea is to write the book in a month, and you should be halfway through the story. Thankfully, there are some notes on how to get that happening. And those tools, once used, can actually really help with plotting out a novel before throwing words at a page, but that’s a different post all together.

One of the best things about this chapter is the introduction of the 3/30/10 exercise. You do 3 blocks of 30 mins with a 10 min break. It’s designed to get your word count up, and your characters behaving themselves. I love that exercise. And it really works. Which is why I pulled it out of the chapter specifically to write it out, because it is honestly good enough to be a tool that makes it all come together.

Week Three is a tricky beast, and Baty and his various NaNoWriMo Winners are quick to point out that this isn’t just you. It’s the week. It’s part of the process.

What I really like about this chapter is the sense that you are really not in it alone. Sure, it comes through in other sections well, but here it’s like they really are standing at the end of this tumultuous week, waiting to open the gates of Week Four and usher you into the magic of that sighting of ‘The End’ that comes with Week Four.

Despite having done NaNoWriMo a lot, I really like the exercises, advice, and pep talks in this chapter. It really does help to break down the weight of the word debt, and give a reassurance that this is just like ever other time Week Three has started with a suck dragon lurking in the woods.

The secret, as always with NaNoWriMo, is to balance productivity with some mental space exercises to keep your mind active and prevent overwhelm. It gives some nice ideas on how to do that, and a framework for you to work with if those ideas don’t suit you.

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Time to put your procrastination hobby aside and get back to the words!

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part Three

Looking for Part One? Click here!
Or the lead into Week One? Try here.

Here we are, Week Two!

The fervour of Week One has had some great effects, but as Baty points out, Week Two is a bit of a different ball game. Or, as Baty says, there’s a storm coming.

Thankfully, there are the warnings so it’s clear this happens to everyone and that Week Three is worth the slog. Which, if you’ve done this crazy novel month thing before you already know but the reminder is nice. And timely.

The advice in this section is, as usual, pretty on the mark for what NaNoWriMo is about. Write the word count, you or your characters will find something to fill it with, and this is the roughest of rough drafts. Just keep writing.

Of course, that comes with caveats, tips, and some motivational insight so that the idea of getting it written rather than right comes through. Including how to get your support network coming in to help get you out of some plot trouble! Some of which I haven’t used before, and I may just test out this time around.

 

There are a heap of little tips and tricks that are from NaNoWriMo Winners, and again, there are some new ones for me so I am really glad I read it. Especially since Week Two really can be a hard slog.

Sleeping Helper

Week One can be exhausting!

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part Two

Looking for Part One? Click here!

Week One, it begins!

Ah, the introduction to the Inner Editor. I always love this section of the book. It’s one of my favourites because Week One is exciting, and I have total permission to leave my Inner Editor with a collection of others so she doesn’t come back whinging about being ignored. It’s a lovely feeling.

Baty has once again made the whole process of starting the first week of a crazy adventure engaging. He also manages to convey the contradictory nature of NaNoWriMo in a way that makes it much more fun because the premise is ridiculous.

And the tips and tricks are definitely a great introduction for new Wrimos, and a good reminder for those who’ve made the crazy trip into Noveland before. You can forget things when it’s been a few months since you started at the start.

It is going to be crazy, run with your characters and do your best to get a buffer of word count.

Make sure you Inner Editor hasn’t snuck out of containment.

Enjoy the process.

The Pep Talks and tips from NaNoWriMo winners should give further ideas on how to make this first week successful.

And with that, I should go actually write the first words for this attempt. Week One, enthusiasm and beyond!

The Fluffy Cat decides my Magna Cartas will do. For now.

No Plot? No Problem! Revised, Part One

One of the most important books in my writing life was No Plot? No Problem! and I credit that book and the online NaNoWriMo community with giving me the small step goals that got me here. If I can write 50,000 words in a month, can I write a full story? If I can do that, can I write a longer full story? What happens if I plan out the book beforehand? Incredibly important questions. And incredibly important skills.

Which means this review series will be a little biased because I love the idea, the process, and the community. But, a bias declared is a bias acknowledged, so keep it in mind.

This book is designed to get you through a month long writing project, a guidebook for the NaNoWriMo process. You can start whenever you want, and you can do it all without getting online. Unless, like me, you have the digital copy. Not the point.

As usual, the first section not only gives some background on the crazy endeavour that is writing a book in a month. It also busts some pretty necessary myths that really can hamstring your attempts. Don’t worry about it being perfect, make time to write but actually write, write if you don’t know what’s happening, write if you do. Basically, write first and worry about editing later. Which is largely how you get through NaNo, in a blaze of writing glory much like a firework set off at an odd angle…

Thankfully, the first section contains tips, tricks for getting yourself set up. This includes people wrangling, contingency planning, novelling headquarters options, tools lists, and suggestions on some ways you can make more time available to you for your epic writing month. All very handy things, and some of them do creep into your habits if, like me, you end up doing a lot more than one month novel push a year.

It also gives you information on how to work out what level of pre-production you need. As the title suggests, you can have as little as you want. The important thing is not to overdo the pre-production.

One of the best pieces of advice here are the two Magna Cartas. The list of things you like, and the list of things you hate. This means when things from the second list creep in, you can kick them out much earlier because you know what they look like.

There are also some good questions to ask yourself about character, and good guidance on starting out your plot.

And because I am going to use this Camp NaNoWriMo to read the book as it was intended, I’m stopping here. No writing on the story itself until Day One. No reading ahead.

So far, the book has lived up to its purpose. It makes the idea of writing a novel in a month fun and not scary, it gives good guidance on how to set yourself up for success without sacrificing things unnecessarily, and has good titbits from Wrimos in there too. So far, it’s made me more confident rather than less.

It currently has a place on my writing craft shelf.

One of the things recommended for the month is to find a writing totem. Here’s mine for month!

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