6 Fundamental Questions to Refine First Draft World-Building

You’ve now finished your first draft–or you’re getting pretty close to it! Or maybe you’re right in the middle, deep in the trenches, excited that you finished NaNoWriMo or hit your personal deadlines, but with no idea that after fifty thousand words the novel would just. Keep. GOING. WHEN WILL IT EVER BE DONE?

In any case, it’s a great time to relax, sit back, and do a world-building integration check-up. This can be a welcome break from the daily word count grind and a fun way to celebrate your awesome creativity. All the while, you’ll figure out how to use elements like setting, superpowers, and space ships to make your story stand out from the crowd.

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Question 1 ~ What World-Building Elements are You Excited About?

When you start writing speculative fiction, you go into the story with these crazy fun ideas. This is where you tackle all the coolest “what-ifs” in your story and get thrilled about them all over again. Maybe it’s a tribe of shape shifting armadillos! Or maybe you have the best take on cytoplasmic alien invaders. Whatever it is, recognize those world-building elements that make you care about your story, because those will be the ones that fuel your passion all through the months of rewrites and editing and…more rewrites and editing. In the end, your goal is to actually get this thing published, so make sure you hang on to cool things that will keep you motivated all the way up until your author interviews!

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Question 2 ~ What World-Building Elements Got Lost In the Shuffle?

So, you thought the vampire slugs were a fun throwaway, but they just ended up, well, thrown away. Or you really wanted to do something with those five extra moons surrounding the planet, but they’re still orbiting and you have no idea why they even need to be there or why you spent an entire chapter on them. This happens. No worries! Maybe you have a plot hole later on that they could fill and all you have to do is connect the dots. Maybe you need to drop back to your pool of sciency advisors (or Google + Something More Trustworthy Than Google) and figure out if those moons have a place. Worse comes to worse, you now have extra ideas to toss in your idea box and bring out in a later story. Because I really want to know about those vampire slugs. *Googles* Wow, someone actually used vampire slugs! We live in a wondrous world, folks.

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Question 3 ~ What World-Building Elements are Crucial to Your Narrative?

Before you start tossing things on the cutting room floor, considering what elements are necessary to your narrative. Sometimes when we get into revision mode, we can forget how everything works together. Take away that opening surprise attack with ghosts because you decided you wanted werewolves instead can drastically change how that entire scene works. While your switch-out might not be as dramatic as werewolves and ghosts, any kind of world-building shift can have trickle down effects that alter the foundations of your story–and your audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. Figure out soon what world-building elements need to stay if at all possible.

Question 4 ~ What World-Building Elements Are Crucial to Your Characterization?

This ties into the narrative question. You need to identify key world-building pieces that are fundamental to characterization. While I’m all about making characters who have depth and layers separate from abilities, part of what makes speculative fiction fun is that the unique speculative parts of the characters are necessary to who they are. I may or may not have snipped ‘unnecessary’ superpowers from a character at one point — and then realized that those abilities were the only thing giving her the security to actually act and be a protagonist. Without them, she suddenly lacked a ton of motivation. Whoops! First off, I needed to fill out her characterization more, and second, I gave her back the powers in a way that enhanced the story line.

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Question 5 ~ What World-Building Elements Make WOW Moments?

You know those moments. The ones that make you go “HAH, that was GREAT” or rub your hands together gleefully or grin at the computer. The ones that send tingles up your spine. Keep those scenes. You need them. Yes, revising and editing is all about cutting the fluff, but you’re writing speculative fiction and your readers like. Cool. Stuff. It’s one of the main things we bring up in word-of-mouth recommendations. So while you might not need all twenty epic battle scenes or awesome wizard duels, go through and geek out over your most exciting, scariest, and/or most thrilling moments and make sure they don’t go anywhere. Unless you plan on replacing them with even better scenes.

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Question 6 ~ What World-Building Elements Need More Muchness?

This one will take another set of eyes, so wait until you’re chill with sending things out to your inner circle of beta readers. You’ve got to steel yourself and ask the dreaded question: what isn’t enough? What isn’t cool enough, clever enough, integrated enough, or explained enough? The upside is you get much-needed feedback and the joy of having other people appreciate your stuff. The downside is your ego takes a bruising as your readers go through your creative mind and heart and ask all kinds of silly questions, like: “how do the lightning blasts come out of trees underwater?” or “Wouldn’t those five moons affect the planet’s gravitational pull and climates?” or “I don’t know why you need eight kinds of dragon species. Are they going to be used at all?” All that common sense can be a cold shower on the creativity, which is why you might need to take a break from your story for a bit before critiques. Also, remember that sometimes critiques aren’t saying to get rid of the element – they’re just a challenge from your beta reader or editor to make it work better and prove its awesomeness. Although occasionally, you might just need to toss something back into the idea box.

What about you? Any other world-building checks you do? Share one of your world-building WOW moments!

Cyber Monday Super Deal!

As a part of Cyber Monday, I am super-excited to offer this limited time offer on my two nonfiction books!

World-Building From the Inside Out textbook and workbook are free on Amazon for one day only!

But wait! There’s MORE.

The print editions of World-Building From the Inside Out textbook and workbook are 40% through Createspace.com!

That brings the price of the textbook to about $5.50 (was $8.99) and the price for the workbook down to about $6.50 (was $9.99).

Just go to the following links and enter the coupon code:  XY7UHUDS

For the textbook: https://www.createspace.com/6218455

For the workbook: https://www.createspace.com/6183831

Thanks for reading! Have a happy Cyber Monday and for NaNoWriMo writers – you can do it!

Book Review: “Written in Red” by Anne Bishop

Enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities—vampires and shape-shifters among them—who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.

As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow (Amazon.com).

I’ve been stalking this book since I saw it in a bookstore two years ago, and I finally cleared off my schedule to do a little binge-reading. It was worth every moment. This is a book that reinvents and redefines shapeshifters, worldview, and reality itself into a delightfully dark, intense book. Get ready for some world-building gushing!

1.) Reimagined Earth – Bishop goes full-on Mother Earth goddess pagan, renaming and reworking the existing geography and societies of earth into a very different reality, named Namid, dominated by capricious elementals and shapeshifters who are far more comfortable in animal skin than human–and see the human as clever meat. The planet Namid, is clearly on the side of these terra indigene, putting humans in a precarious situation as renters and tenants in the New World. This radically skewed world-building creates a fascinating tension and conflict.

2.) Reinvented Shapeshifters – the shapeshifting Others have worn animal forms for thousands of years and they like them a lot. Bishop writes their animal behavior in both forms very well. In Simon Wolfgard she creates a memorable character who is a far cry from the bare-chested shifters who only exist to fall in love with sassy maidens. He is a Wolf, first and foremost, and his growing devotion to Meg both angers and infuriates him as a Wolf, not as a human. It makes for a refreshing dynamic between them.

3.) Revised Romance – as in, there isn’t one. Not really. Meg and Simon have an instinctive connection but her history of being sheltered and misused and the fact that he is a Wolf, not a human, is a natural divide that is explored in a cautious manner. At the same time, the connection is strong and intriguing. I appreciate the caution and the focus on friendship over sex (which, as Animals, the Others view as a crude physical act).  Simon and Meg’s back and forth, and Meg’s firmly innocent view of the world, is an oddly sweet center to this dark, often harsh fantasy.

Note: this book is squarely in the adult category. There is some language, mature themes, sexual content (nothing graphic, fade to black), and crude references (both on the part of the animalistic Others and on the part of the baddies).

Final Verdict: a unique dark fantasy with a sweet heroine, a fierce Wolf who runs a horror bookstore, and a reimagined Earth that offers a host of possibilities and conflicts.

How to Enjoy NaNoWriMo – Even If You’re Not Participating (or You’re a Rebel)

I am NOT participating in National Novel Writing Month this year. At least, not in the traditional sense. While I write steadily, 50K this November just isn’t a possibility, especially with working a full-time job, a part-time job, and other sundry endeavors outside this little blog post box.

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However, I am doing my first ever short-story contest with my students based on NaNoWriMo. Their minimum is 5,000 words in the month of November — and they can feel free to go all the way to 50,000! As long they, y’know, actually get all their homework done and remember to sleep now and then.😉 In honor of their efforts, I’m going for 15K-30K, picking up a steampunk/fairy tale YA novel I ditched two years ago because distraction by another story (if this happens to you *high fives* and if it doesn’t — which is incredible and awesome — *high fives anyway* ). Anyway, what ended up happening was that unfinished story kept relentlessly seeping into other stories in inappropriate (re: totally against plot flow) ways, so I figure it was time to give Touch of Green its due.

So I’m:

  • Only doing 15K-30K instead of 50K
  • Using a story I’m already 10K into (and they are actually pretty good words so I’m keeping them)
  • Working on another novel or two on the side (because the busier I am, the more inspired I am – and the less sleep I get)

Why even bother getting involved, if I’m not following the rules? Because NaNoWriMo isn’t just about the rules. It’s about having a giant creating-fest and getting all of us peeps who usually hide behind our computer screens and type OUT INTO THE OPEN.

On our computer screens (or typewriters, or notebooks, or cell phones, etc).

Quietly.

Like EPIC REBELS!

And since I’m one of those less-common writing extroverts, I want everyone to get in the fun! So here are five ways you can enjoy NaNoWriMo, even if you’re not actually writing 50,000 words.

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Five Ways to Enjoy NaNoWriMo (Without Officially Participating or Following Rules)

1.) Do a Word/Editing/Brainstorming/SOMETHING CREATIVE Sprint

Word sprints are more than just word count. They’re about setting aside time and making an effort for disciplined focus. Don’t judge yourself by anyone else’s progress. Just do what you do and enjoy it — and then share it afterwards with someone, because these things are cool. And sharing them is also cool.

2.) Declare Your Goals

So you’re not going for the 50K. So you’re writing a short story or a novella or doing a proofread or making a quilt with letters (I have awesome quilter friends). Put it out there anyway! Let people know what you’re doing. Own it! And on the official NaNoWriMo forums there are a lot of homes for the unconventional. Although I’m not sure there’s a place for people who are sewing their words INTO quilts. But it could happen!

3.) Support the 50Kers (or more than 50kers)

They are doing epic things as well. It can be tempting to feel a little envious of those who can squeeze that in or write that fast, but hey, we’re all on our own journeys here. Get excited for them! Encouragement builds everyone up.🙂

4.) Support All the Creatives

Find others like you and challenge each other! Use this as an extra-special time to celebrate all things writer/creative. Why not? It’s a lonely place, guys. Being a writer, artist, or creative in this world is increasingly difficult and underappreciated. If we don’t make our own parties or set milestones, who will? Besides, everyone needs a treat now and then!

5.) For 50Kers – Support Your Local Rebels

In the end, we’re all doing this writing/creative journey, just in different ways and at different paces. So let’s make this an awesome all-month party that can maybe, just maybe, last all the year round!

Which I’d totally love, as an extroverted creator. Because parties are fun – even the silent ones with lots of keystrokes and swipes and pen scratches. And whatever else you make awesome with.

Who’s doing NaNoWriMo out there? What other creative things are you up to?

Update – Fiction Book Release, Launch Party, and Nonfiction Update!

*waves* Hi there! I’ve been rather absent over the last few weeks in large part due to the upcoming release of my first fiction novella!

Now, I’m not usually down with self-promotion here, because this is all about helping y’all write your best, but you’ll excuse me a brief write-up here! Since I regularly review these kinds of books, you might even want to give this a try.😉

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What would you do if the one you loved was turned into a monster?

Melrose Durante brings order. As founder of the Houses of the Dead, he tirelessly opposes the vampires, and provides refuge for the Blood Kind, those like himself who fight against the blood curse that leads to vampirism. His medical breakthroughs have brought many back from the vampire path. After thousands of years, the Blood Kind finally have the upper hand.

Until a vampire attacks Melrose’s family, then begs for asylum. To his friends she’s Lucy, a disturbed young woman prone to incoherent rants, warning of an imminent attack by vampire leader, Conan. But to Melrose she’s something more.

His lost wife, Jane.

One thing is clear – time is running out. In five days Conan will attack Quebec City, killing or enslaving all in his way. If Melrose cannot unlock his wife’s tormented mind, even his immortal wisdom may not be enough to save Quebec City, the Blood Kind, and the Houses of the Dead (Amazon.com).

For a week and a half there’s been a fantastic blog tour going on, offering all kinds of juicy behind-the-scenes info on the book and on the co-creators, Julia Busko and myself!

Monday, October 17th – Deanna Fugett – Interview on Quills and Inkblotts 
 
Thursday, October 20th – Tina Yeager – Blood Kind and Mental/Physical Disorders 
 
 
 
Friday, November 4 – H.A. Titus – Special Interview
There’s also an awesome launch party!
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Also, work on Characterization From the Inside Out has gotten a boost as I’m working on my latest novel, Phoenix Reckoning. Expect awesome new content in the near future. Thanks for reading!

Book Review: “A Time to Rise” by Nadine Brandes

 

What more can you sacrifice than your life?

Parvin Blackwater is dead.

At least that’s what the Council and the world thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Now she will rise again. Strong, free, and fearless.

Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world? (Amazon.com)

Ending a trilogy is hard work. Ending a trilogy under a publishing deadline and wrapping up every loose thread in a satisfactory manner? Even harder.

Nadine Brandes makes a valiant effort in A Time to Rise. Her voice is as strong as ever, and at times the plot truly shines with the same spicy hot sauce that makes me keep reading, even when emotionally-impulsive heroine Parvin Blackwater makes yet another crazy move that jeopardizes everything. The faith element is also even more heavily present here, to the point that it almost acts as a justification for story elements. In the end, I believe that Brandes has wrapped up her trilogy in a way that will please her target audience and provides a satisfying ending to Parvin’s unique character arc.

I enjoyed how the story went to different locations. Getting glimpses of France and Russian were a treat. One of my favorite parts was Brandes description of dog-sledding in the far north of Russian. The journey was truly exhilarating. Supporting characters such as Christian Hawke and Tawny Blackwater were also intriguing. And I always appreciate the descriptions of food. In addition, Brandes writes the harsh realities of a revolution with some poignancy. Revolutions are messy and difficult, and I’m glad Brandes was willing to explore those aspects.

In terms of overall plot, A Time to Rise is a highly message-driven book, even more so than the previous two installments of the Out of Time trilogy. Parvin’s “rise” involves both a political rise that is ultimately out of her control and a spiritual surrender to God. Rising, Brandes seems to indicate, starts with kneeling before others in kindness and humility, no matter what the obstacle or how unlovable the person. This concept extends to all parts of the book. For all that she is put into positions of leadership, Parvin spends the majority of the book following others and trusting the Voice of God in her head. At times, this is frustrating, especially when Parvin makes yet more impulsive choices and her emotions pull her in different directions. However, I’ve acknowledged previously that Parvin Blackwater and I have radically different personalities, so I’m used to the occasional urge strangle her or throw the book against the wall (difficult with an eCopy). It is entirely not personal and is actually a point of success on the part of Brandes for making me care so much. In the end, Parvin’s idealism and avoidance of the spotlight in favor of radical kindness put her in a unique place among YA dystopian heroines.

Note: due to the emphasis on obedience to a higher power and humility, at times Parvin lacks agency. Also, the ending of the book seemed a little rushed to me, particularly the epilogue, where a lot of intense growth is mentioned as more of an afterthought. I also would have liked more insight into Skelley Chase. Because we’re limited to Parvin’s POV, I still felt like I never fully understood his character.

Final Verdict: A Time to Rise is a third book that seeks to tie up all the loose ends within a omnipresent Christian message and a globe-spanning plot that allows the protagonist to achieve her ultimate goal: shalom.

Click on the links below if A Time to Rise sounds like your cup of hot sauce!

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3 Easy Tips to Use Dialect in Writing and World-Building

When you bring up world-building, one of the first things that comes up is language. People ask if you’ve made up your own language, or if you’re going to, or how you should do it.

Now, if you want to make up languages, go ahead! I’m not stopping you. There’s a lot of fun to be had in the world of phonemes, morphemes, etc.  However, if you want to focus more on getting words onto paper, I’d suggest a different route.

Use dialects.

The different between a language and a dialect can be subjective.

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Officially (more or less) the difference between languages and dialects is that people who speak different languages can’t understand each other, whereas people from other dialects can at least hold a conversation (this Economist article does a nice job with a few more details).

For the purposes of writing, we’ll call a language something you have to make up and then translate for the reader somehow–context clues or a convenient translator repeating everything for the protagonist are common ways. A dialect is something that involves more of syntax (word order) and lexicon (vocabulary) than long strings of foreign language. The reader can still understand the dialogue more or less.

For example, the acceptable, grammatically correct way of phrasing a sentence might be this:

I like flute music.

Nonstandard speech might phrase it.

I like me some flute music.

Another way could be.

Flute music me likes.

(Yes, I used to play the flute).

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The second and third examples are both nonstandard usages of English that would get a red flag from any editor–unless those usages were intentional uses of dialect within a fictional setting. Then it becomes a matter of which usage best fits the voice of the character, the tone of the piece, and is easy for readers to understand.

Unlike the tips I’ve given you previously, messing around with dialect isn’t an easy trick. It requires time, effort, care, and a fair amount of YouTube videos (and if possible, some in-person reference or personal experience to draw upon). However, I’m all about action items, so here are:

3 Dos and 3 Don’ts of Dialect

1.) DO use dialect as a way of showing differences between culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic class.

You can also explore concepts of discrimination against certain dialects,  the elevation of other dialects as superior, and the way that people make judgments based on speech. It’s also great for showing geographical distance. Any time a people group is isolated, they will develop their own manners of speech.

DON’T overdo dialect at the expense of clarity.

I read a YA book with the standard love triangle with two guys after one girl. This was actually a decent love triangle. Both males were fully-fleshed characters who had their own lives and goals apart from the female protagonist. However, a main reason I shipped one guy over the other was due to dialect. This writer went all in for piratey dialect in such a way that made it really hard to understand what the guy was saying–and even harder to imagine his voice in my head. All of the commas and apostrophes used to indicate his particular way of speech made reading his dialogue more of a decoding session instead of an enjoyable experience.

2.) DO use resources online. Google references and sources on the dialects you’re using. If possible, go bother a linguist friend. 

DON’T just think you can do this on your own. Even if you are writing from personal experience and your personal dialect, still check some YouTube videos, online reference guides, and resources. Google is your friend. My current WIP draws heavily from my personal dialect and my experiences with Appalachian dialects. Plus, I’ve had linguistic and cultural training. However, I still have at least three different tabs open when I’m drafting for easy access to sentence structure, idioms, and unique lexicon. Writing is different than speaking and still requires intentionality.

3.) DO feel free to borrow different linguistic aspects from existing languages to substitute for fake languages.

Languages borrow from each other all the time–English being one of the worst offenders! Go ahead and Google ideas. Just be respectful and intelligent in usage. Having a linguist help out is invaluable.

DON’T forget to keep track of your own rules!

Each time you borrow a sentence structure or a type of spelling or a slang word, write it down or copy and paste into a document. Make sure you’re consistent in usage as well. In my current WIP, I’m managing the interactions of three different levels of Appalachian dialect: the super thick, archaic dialect of immortals who have lived there for over a century,  the mixed dialect of a descendant who wants to break away from his ancient clan, and then the dialect of AJ, the main character who moved to the valley when she was a young teenager and picked up a lot of the syntax to fit in but is a little self-conscious about it and will code-switch into more educated speech. Those little touches are easy ways to distinguish between character roles and deepen each character naturally.

What about you? Do you use dialect in your writing or world-building?

What do you think of books that are heavy on dialect? Any great pieces of advice?