Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I know we all love the climax of a story. We all love the inciting event that finally sets off the villain and the ending that tie everything together. But let's face it, we need the beginning.

Take a moment to imagine your favorite novel, but without the beginning. We meet the characters halfway through their journey, skipping the part where we grow to love them, consequently do you think we really care when they step up to the chopping block? Do you think we're going to jump up from our chairs, the novel spread out in front of us in our hands, cheering them on in the sword fight? Not if we hadn't read that he had saved his best friend from a burning building, earning a scar on his forearm, I doubt it.

Beginnings are for making us love the characters and maybe even give a care about what happens to them, but that's not the only thing they do. For one, they add depth to the plot.

So what if David is swimming in his mother's pool, why should I care? Well, if I had read the beginning maybe I would have found out that David was born of the fire element and can't touch water. But I wouldn't know would I, because I hadn't read the beginning.

Imagine a slide. A good beginning should act as ladder. It may not be as smooth or fast as the ride down, but a ladder is essential if you want to get on top of a ladder. Each step of the ladder if a detail laid out by the beginning.

Ah, me and my diagrams. Anyways, in case you can't see the ladder as best as you want to, here is a bigger version....

And I don't say "match" just in the way of looks. What I am truly bringing up is one of the most basic lessons we, as writers, will learn; that is to stay on topic. If you are talking about earning an A for the entire length of the beginning, don't suddenly switch to saving the world. That's just confusing for the readers. 

Points to Keep in Mind while Writing a Good Beginning

Point One - Boom Swish Boom Theory

Disclaimer: Don't be fooled, this is not an actual scientific theory, it is a way to write a a good beginning. 

Boom - Shock your readers with some action right away to grab them by the heads and drag them into your story.
Swish - Let your MC's clean up the mess and dish out some of the details.
Boom - More action! ...Leading up to the climax.

Point Two - No Hitting Them While they're Down

Do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, hit them while they are down. This type of behavior is reserved for the sliding part of the slide (Climax, falling action, etc.) not the beginning. You need to build up to this point, do not use all your resources right away. The beginning is the smooth part, not the choppy, closing in from all sides falling action.

Point Three - Show Some Love

Show some point of empathy somewhere in your story. Even if your story is a Gothic thriller with zombies and machine guns, make your MC show his affection for his cat. This lets the reader know that your MC is still a person.

Point Four - Introductions

Most everything your character needs/will need to solve the mystery is revealed the beginning. Family, spies, secret information, clues, recipes, and all that good stuff. Make sure you give a reasonable amount of time in between introductions so we have time to digest it. You can't shove it all at us at once but you can't spread it so evenly apart it becomes a rhythm. Don't be afraid to shock us off our feet but don't trust us enough to have us catch a great big ball of new things that snowballing down the page.

So I think that sums it up. We talked about the purpose of beginnings being to make us fall in love with the characters and add depth to the plot. We went over four points to remember when writing a good beginning; boom swish boom theory, no hitting them while they're down, showing some love, and introductions. A good beginning will bring all of the reader's emotions into the story, if you can do that, then you are pretty well off.

Good luck with your writing and have a good week!

What's your favorite way of introducing a character? Do you have any advice to share about writing beginnings? 

Monday, November 28, 2011


For anybody who was unsure, from the Greek “pros” (before) and “logos” (story/word). So, literally, “prologue” means “before the story”.

Now that I’ve said that, you should know exactly what a prologue is supposed to do. It’s supposed to be something before the story that adds to the story. I’ve heard it said somewhere that a good prologue is an excuse to have a really boring first chapter, in which you get everything you need into said chapter to be able to continue the story without any problems or any more info-dumping.

NOT TRUE. There is never an excuse to have a boring chapter (a slow one in which not much happens, maybe, but never a boring one – your writing style and characterisation, if not something to do with the plot, should bring it to life somehow). Also, round about fifty percent of readers don’t even read prologues, even if they’re total bookworms. I mean, I’m a bookworm and I have a lot of friends who are. It’s just me and one other who bother to read the prologues out of the whole group of us.

Lesson Number One: A prologue is not there to launch the reader into the story by having something really exciting happen there and nothing happen in chapter one.

Lesson Number Two: Write chapter one as though the prologue and its happenings don’t exist. You still have to catch the reader’s attention in chapter one, especially if said reader hasn’t read your lovingly-crafted and totally awesome prologue.

Following on from lesson number two, you have to make sure to put the right sorts of things in your prologue.

A prologue is not an info-dumping ground for the world you’re creating. It should be as interesting to read as every single one of the chapters in your story, but has to be relevant to the plot as well. As far as I’m concerned, there are three types of prologue:

TYPE 1: A prologue set in advance of the main happenings of the story that, as one reads on, begins to bear relevance on the happenings in the story. The only one I can think of off the top of my head (although this is one of the most common types) is in The Alexander Cipher. The prologue is set just after the destruction of the Greek empire after Alexander the Great’s death. The rest of the book takes place in the modern day. When you go from the prologue to the rest of the story, you don’t initially understand the relevance of it at all, but as the mystery in the story unravels, there comes a point about three quarters of the way through where you click, leap out of your seat and yell “that’s GENIUS!” (well, you do if you’re me).

TYPE 2: A prologue set in which things happen at a similar time to the start of the story, but with a different character or in a different place (usually both) to the main character and whatever happens with this different character sparks off what happens in the rest of the book. The best example of this that I can currently name is the beginning of Eragon, when Arya sends Saphira’s egg to Eragon and is then captured. In the first chapter, the egg appears in front of Eragon. The reason this prologue works is because, after that, the main character in the story is Eragon and everything is narrated (in third person) through his eyes. Arya never becomes the main character. If, however, the character in the prologue becomes the main POV at some point, the prologue usually begins to lose its power. The prologue is like a one-off event, or a manga one-shot. If it becomes too similar to one of the chapters in the story, it’s going to lose its power.

TYPE 3: This type seems to be rarer, but a prologue which is set into the future from the events that take place in the book. They’re probably rare because they’re so hard to pull off well. I mean, most of them say similar things, like “x years ago, I would never have dreamed that this would happen to me”, or info-dump on the story from the hindsight perspective of the narrator. I can’t currently think of a good book where this has been pulled off well, so if you can, please tell me.

The other thing you have to do is figure out whether or not your prologue is actually relevant. You don’t HAVE to have a prologue, and given the number of people who don’t read them, in some ways it’s even advisable that you don’t have one. If you just felt like putting in a prologue, or if you thought it would be cool to give the title “prologue”, “pros legomenon” or something like that to the first collection of paragraphs for the story that you wrote, you probably don’t need that thing called “prologue” (or any variation thereof) sitting there. Quite often, what you decide to do in the prologue can be done in chapter one. Look at Harry Potter: since Harry is only one year old in chapter one, the events in that chapter are sufficiently removed for that chapter to have been put as the prologue. The chapter is told through the eyes of characters other than Harry, whereas the rest of all seven books are told through Harry’s eyes. The happenings of the first chapter are all fundamental to the plot as well. It has the makings of an excellent prologue, but Rowling decided to make it her first chapter, and it is a TOTALLY awesome first chapter. It would work equally well as both, but it suits fine as the first chapter. However, the reason it works just that little bit better as a first chapter than it would as a prologue is because the next chapter or so covers (in flashbacks) various parts of Harry’s early life. If your prologue then leads into a chapter where the character is still not at the right place for the story to start (e.g. is only five in chapter one, seven in chapter two, and finally turns fifteen in chapter three and is fifteen for the rest of the book), it’s probably best not to have a prologue.

With that in mind, look back at your prologue and compare it to HP1Ch1. Does your prologue really need to be titled as a prologue, or could it be a chapter one?

Also, looking at what’s in your prologue, could you drop everything of relevance in it into the story later on with the story still making sense and without the reader going “???”? If the answer is yes, then you don’t need a prologue. I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Twilight doesn’t need its prologue, and I have to say that I sort of agree. It doesn’t really seem to serve any interest other than to try to get us hooked on the plot. Remember what I said earlier about fifty percent of people boycotting prologues? Having an awesome prologue doesn’t make up for having a not-so-awesom first chapter.

So, Lesson Number 3: You probably don’t need your prologue. Think very carefully about its necessity and the information that’s in it. Chances are that half of your target audience won’t read it anyway.

What not to do with a prologue

Remember, whatever goes into your prologue, it is still a part of the story. That means that you need to write it as a part of the story. More than that, but if you have a prologue, it’s more important that this catches a reader’s attention that chapter one. People give a little leeway with chapter one. They don’t with a prologue. Almost every prologue of every decent book out there is like having a chocolate dangled in front of your nose. Readers expect them to be good. They expect them to be phenomenal. They expect them to be interesting.

If you are going to have a prologue, something has to happen. It can’t be that your character decided to eat ice cream or something like that. The prologues that people tend to like involve some sense of mystery and a huge sense of anticipation for the rest of the story. Like, somebody dies, somebody is captured, somebody sacrifices themselves, or (if writing a romance, I suppose) two people are separated and it looks like they will never get back together. Much as I love the Lord of the Rings, do not do what Tolkien did in his prologue. I’m one of the people who does read prologues, but if I’d read that before I started on the rest of the book, I would’ve given up.

Lesson Number 4: Your prologue has to be epic.

Something I’ve seen around (on rather than in published books, it has to be said) is something entitled “prologue” and then “chapter one” following directly on from the ‘prologue’ with the exact same characters. NO. If your character spent the prologue buying a sack of potatoes, describing how he cooked the potatoes in chapter one does NOT merit a prologue. The sequence of events demands that either they all be crammed into either the prologue (and that chapter one has nothing to do with potatoes), or that there is no prologue/a different prologue and the potato plot gets crammed into chapter one to start the story, or that the prologue be renamed as chapter one and the original chapter one be renamed as chapter two. There has to be a distancing factor between the prologue and first chapter, be it time-wise, physical distance-wise, character-wise or something else like that.

Lesson Number 5: The prologue ought to somehow be distanced somehow from the first chapter.

And, in case I didn’t already put it in: Lesson Number 6: The prologue must be relevant to the plot somehow.

Let’s recap:

#A lot of readers don’t bother reading prologues, so it’s useless to try to use it as a hook if you know your first chapter isn’t up to it.

#Write chapter one as though the prologue doesn’t exist.

#Make sure your prologue is utterly awesome.

#Chances are you don’t need your prologue.

#Distance it somehow from chapter one.

#Make sure the prologue is relevant to the plot.

Happy writing! Over and out.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Monstrumologist : Book Review

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey
//Amazon//Barnes and Noble//The Book Depository//
These are the secrets I have kept. This is the trust I never betrayed.
But he is dead now and has been for more than forty years, the one who gave me his trust, the one for whom I kept these secrets.
The one who saved me...and the one who cursed me.
So begins the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man with a most unusual specialty: monstrumology, the study of monsters. In his time with the doctor, Will has met many a mysterious late-night visitor, and seen things he never imagined were real. But when a grave robber comes calling in the middle of the night with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet.
Critically acclaimed author Rick Yancey has written a gothic tour de force that explores the darkest heart of man and monster and asks the question: When does a man become the very thing he hunts? 

Setting: The Monstrumologist takes place in 1888, in a New England town not all too far from my own. The setting is done is wonderful detail, and draws the reader in extremely well. Any disgusting elements of the story (and there are quite a few) are described eloquently, and in way that establishes a firm image and does miracles to create the mood, adding to the horror of the story, as a whole. 

Characters: Of everything else, the characters are probably the weakest element of the books, though I am loathe to say that, as they are still very good. If they lack in development, I would say that it is more due to the way the story is told, through reflection in a journal, more than a hundred years later. That said, I immediately fell in love with Doctor Pellinore Warthrop and Will Henry; both are flawed human beings, the doctor very much so. While Will's youth (he is only twelve) would usually annoy me, his naivety (that he slowly loses over the course of the book and the next two) sets him up as a strong contrast to the more cynical doctor; he is a loveable boy, overall. 

Plot: Oh, the plot is marvelous. It is suspenseful, avoiding the typical pitfalls of horror literature, as well as being realistic, despite the presence of "monsters". The story takes place over a short period, involving relatively few events, but is nonetheless compelling. Each plot development is logical and truly adds to the story, as well as setting up the theme of the story - if the term monster can truly be limited to creatures of aberrant biology. 

Writing: This is my favourite part - the actual writing. There are few words to describe the writing, other than that it does its best to reflect the period, while remaining understandable to teenagers and adults. The metaphors and descriptors used fall just short of perfect - Yancey rarely falls upon the cliche comparisons, but every one that is made is apt and brilliant. It has an artistic and somewhat poetical bent; if you're vocabulary isn't up to par, then you might find yourself struggling to follow along. 

Overall: 5 stars. I cannot recommended this highly enough, along with it's two sequels, with the exception that if you're looking for a short, easy read, this is not it at all. The horrors and secrets which fuel each book lead to an engaging plot, made all the better by the writing.

Friday, November 25, 2011


On Wednesday, I know we were supposed to have guest post, but some lines got crossed and it will be rescheduled to a later date. Sorry! 

Today, we don't have an interview planned so I'm going to talk about the glory of a generator. No, not generator as in the kind you use for electricity, unless by electricity you mean inspiration. 

No, the kind of generator I'm talking about is the ones you can find at Seventh Sanctum. For instance, their Character Scrambler creates ides for characters with the single click of a button. And that's not the only kind they have. They generators for names and for creating alien races. They have ones for swords, for dragon breeds, and vampires. If you're having writer's block or searching for an idea, this is definitely the place to go for ideas. 

There are various other sites to go to find generator, if you type into google or bing what you want to find and the word "generator", you're bound to find a generator that fits your needs. 

Here's a list of generators and generator sites that I've found....

Seventh Sanctum - The king of all generator sites. You can find most everything that you would need while writing a story. 

Serendipity - Although it's not as big of a collection as Seventh Sanctum, it still has a lot of hopeful generators. 

Creative Idea Generator - This site gives you random words and pictures to help generate ideas. 

Spring Hole - A bunch of generators here. 

Hope I can help and have a good rest of Thanksgiving break! 

Have a cool generator answer? Know another generator you'd like to share? What did you do over Thanksgiving?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Comic Relief Characters

I actually have writers' block on this blog post. I can't believe it. I NEVER get writers' block.

Besides making a very obvious and very stupid joke that this has nothing to do with the charity Comic Relief (Red Nose Day, anyone?), I keep finding myself at a very solid brick wall when I try to write this post.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL YOU AMERICANS FOR (now) YESTERDAY! I'm not actually American myself, so I know relatively little about Thanksgiving, but I hope you all had a nice day.

I don't actually know where to start with this. Maybe with a definition of Comic Relief Characters? Being a person who can't sit through a book without comedy somewhere, these sorts of characters are like caffeine to me, provided they don't go overboard or seem really artificial (as in, obvious that the author has just written a specific thing for them to do to bring out a (usually) lame joke).

A comic relief character is a character who provides a break from otherwise serious moments in the novel, or lightens the mood even if it's not that serious a moment, with something humorous, like Fred and George and the fireworks escapade in the fifth Harry Potter book. There are many different ways of doing them, but the one thing not to do is to make too much of an effort with them. Like with any form of humour, contrived humour almost always falls flat. If you try to make your characters funny rather than just letting it flow naturally, it ceases to be funny. There's a very fine line to strike, and, unfortunately, it's one that each and every one of you will have to strike separately. We all have our own different preferred ways of expressing humour, and the readers will too.

What is the point to a comic relief character?

Well, to be honest, exactly that: to provide comic relief. Some authors are like me and can't resist putting in something funny every once in a while. Others (are also like me and) have it as part of the character building of certain characters. If you are the sort of person who can pull off humour or a character like Merry or Pippin or the Weasley twins, then there is no reason why you shouldn't have a comic relief character in your book. It's right in your zone; it's comfortable to write; it's entertaining for both you and the reader.

However, there are probably some times when it's best not to have one -- for example, in a horror book. Also, as my mother keeps telling me (mothers are always right), even if your comic relief character shows up at a point of high tension, you probably want to keep the jokes out -- unless you're aiming for bathos or paraprosdokian (e.g. your characters have been wandering around a haunted house and they see something white and ghostly wandering around and it later turns out to be your comic relief charcter who'd had an accident in the kitchen with an enormous sack of flour). If you have a battle scene or a death scene, DO NOT start cracking the jokes. You can get away with this in a manga or if the character is GENUINELY suited to cracking jokes under pressure or normally does something stupid. If there are jokes flying around, remember that not everybody is going to respond to them well if they're in the middle a fight. They're going to be more concerned with self-preservation, for a start, and they'll be too occupied to find something exceptionally funny when distractions like laughing will put their lives completely at stake.

How many should I have?

To be honest, this is absolutely, totally up to you. If you've read the Percy Jackson books, practically every character in them is a comic relief one. You can have lots of characters as comic relief, or you can have one or two. It really, really doesn't matter. What does matter is what you do about the humour. If all your comic relief characters have identical senses of humour, they become clones and it kills the humour.

What sorts of humours should I use?

Again, this is totally up to you, and it will depend partially on your characterisation. For example, a character who might be at university studying for theology is more like to come up with a prank or joke to do with religion than somebody who spends three hours a day rowing. It's quite common to see a comic relief character who is snarky or sarcastic nowadays. That works too. The other most common type is slapstick, which is more like Fred and George. They're the forms of humour that most people find easiest to do. But really, you can go for anything -- dark humour, wit... anything. Just remember the three rules of John Cleese on humour: no puns, no puns and no puns!

I wish my brain was functioning to write more and in more detail on this, but it'll have to do for the moment. i might come back and edit.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Heroes and Heroines

When you read a book, you don't usually want the hero/heroine to constantly whine and moan about what they have to do, so why should you write them that way?

A hero is defined as a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal or a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. A heroine is the same thing, just in female form. 

For the purpose of this post, I'll be talking about heroines, since most YA books I've read have female narrators. But all of this can be applied to a hero, too, for the most part.

In my opinion, when you're writing a character you want to be the heroine, who is mainly going to be the narrator, you still need to make them realistic. Sure, a heroine needs to have admirable qualities, but at the same time, they still need flaws. They can't be all high-and-mighty; they need to have problems. To me, that's what makes a true heroine - someone who can recognize they're not perfect, has some major issues just like everyone else, but at the same time still goes above and beyond to help other people. 

Another thing I think you have to be careful of is that your heroine can't just become a heroine right out of the blue. She can't be completely boring and whiny and teenager-like and then suddenly, at the climax of your story, save everyone. Even before she can be recognized as a "true heroine," she needs to have admirable qualities. Even if it's just something like stopping some bullying in the hallway.

Which brings me to another point - heroes and heroines can be found anywhere in your story. It doesn't have to be the narrator/main character. Sometimes, it's the random secondary character that saves the day, and I think that's okay - as long as there's some kind of predecessor to it. Maybe the secondary character stopped someone from bullying your main character. Maybe the secondary character stopped your main character from being chowed on by a wolf. I dunno. It can be anything. o.o

Since this post is so scrambled and probably confusing, I'll just say my main point is this: Heroes and heroines can be any character. For the most part, they're just like the other people in your book, but you need to make sure they're not the stereotypical whiny teenager. Of course, that goes for any character, really, but when it comes down to it, your heroine has to save the day - and hopefully do it in a smart way. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Character Development

This is a day late- sorry. It's been busy days...

Anyways. Character development. The best thing you could do is get to know your characters. Are they talkative like your sister? Is their favorite color white, like your best friend? Did your MC get into a fight with his/her mother and are now sulking? Or maybe they're thinking on their mother's words and regretting the harsh things said?

I challenge you to answer these questions on a piece of paper or a word document:
1. What is your character's full name?
2. Who is their best friend?
3. When is their birthday?
4. If offered a choice between eating a gallon of vanilla ice cream or going snowboarding, which would they choose?
5. You character has a choice between getting a pet rabiit, snake, cat, or dog. Which one?
6. How does your character greet strangers off the street?
7. How does he/she greet friends or enemies?
8. What is their favorite color, favorite book, and/or their favorite gemstone?
9. How many siblings do they have? Are their parents divorced/dead? Do they live with any other family members?
10. How do they treat their family? With affection or sibling rivalry or downright ignore them?
11. What does their room look like?
12. What are his/her hobbies?

Character development is easy and important in writing. Treat your characters like real people, and describe them like real people. And remember- people are more than one thing. They aren't just "talkative", or just "energetic" or just "rebellious".

It might help to stick to a "type" of personality though. You can't have your character talkative and rebellious but preppy and trampy as well, oh and she gets depressed often and while she's super curious, she's also apathetic... that's just confusing. A common, almost cliche one is the quiet, shy girl who is the heroine of the story. Another is the hot, popular guy who is too afraid too stick up for himself and is secretly a nerd at heart or something. You don't have to make them like that, but you might want to stick to similar personality traits. Unless that doesn't work and your character Joe is in a mental hospital or something. 

That's pretty much it. Remember, no one is one thing, but no one is everything, either. To develop your characters, get to know them a little better yourself. After all, you can't describe someone you don't know, right?

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Happy Saturday all! Today is a fill-in-the-bank sort of day and I wanted to start what I hope will become a series of posts about my personal writing journey. First, I'll share how I got into writing. Not the kind for school exactly, but more creative and imaginative writing.

So I picked up Harry Potter fan fiction about 6 or 7 years ago. I'm not afraid to admit it because it became a truly enjoyable interest and eventually grew into something greater for me. At the time, I loved coming up with characters, plots, names and posting them on my account for my "fans". Even though I was mostly terrible at it, I can say it was definitely the beginning. Now and then I take a returning look at what I used to write, in the stacks of notebooks I have stuffed under a cabinet in my room.

Then I took a break from that as the final book came out and much of Harry Potter fan fiction weakened. I finally joined Inkpop, run by HarperCollins, in December of 2009. Partly because two of my friends had been selected to join as beta testers. But mostly since I'd thought it seemed like a great and new writing place to become involved with. In short, I needed it more than it needed me. I've been mostly lurking around, reading projects and posting in forums at complete will. But I've seen some friendly people and interesting work on there!

I tried for about two whole years to write and post something, anything. Kept giving myself deadlines then pushing them away over and over. Ideas weaved in and out of my head, but I was stuck. Or at least convinced I was. It wasn't until I began reading a lot of YA (maybe in the last year or two) that I decided I wanted to write it, too.

*In upcoming posts (dates TBD), I'll discuss my sources of inspiration, some of my likes and dislikes, as well as some writing goals for my future. All through the perspective of a struggling yet determined newbie in a competitive (YA) market, both professional and non.*

Have a good weekend!

Friday, November 18, 2011


Sorry for such a late post today, I had some issues. 

Have you ever heard of Jane Yolen? She wrote books including the Sister Light, Sister Dark series and Briar Rose. There's something I would like to point out about her that sets her apart from the "normal" writer. 

Jane Yolen doesn't "plot" out, per se, her novels. She gets a vague idea of the beginning or middle or end or wherever, and writes from their, letting her story plot itself out. 

I'm bringing this up because everything seems to be so set in stone. You plot the book, you write the book, you publish the book, blah, blah, blah and so on. This is not how the world works! This isn't how writing works! You need to find a pace that works for you, a style that fits you, some pattern that makes it so you can focus on writing. Don't plot your novel just because that's what Stephenie Meyers did or because that's what Rick Riordan did or James Patterson or some other author. 

Now, I'm not saying plotting is bad, for some people it's a good way to get their ideas together. My point is that you should give something a try, you might find a different way works better. I know I sound pretty cliche right now, but it's the truth. I'm not just writing this because it'll look cool. Well, that's not the entire reason but I'm writing this because I want to help you writers out there develop your talents in your own way, not the most popular method. 

Now that I have my point across, we can talk about some ways that you can try to broaden your horizons. 

Go-With-It Style - The style Jane Yolen uses and the one I use. You get a vague scene and write the entire story off of it. 

Plotting - This is the "normal" style, where you plot out the entire book beforehand. 

With A Friend - Write a story with another person. This way you can piggy-back ideas and for some people it's something easier to grab onto. 

Two Narrators - Switch off from two different narrators. Get two views of the story.

There are thousands of different ways to write, these are just four of them. My advice is to just try something new, you might find a strategy you would like to keep. The worst that can happen is that nothing could happen, that one might not work and you have to try a new one. Good luck and keep writing!

Is there any other strategies you can think of? Are there any ways that you've tried and really liked? One that you didn't like too much?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Standing Up Straight: The Backbone of the Story

Backbone. The first image in your mind is....

Don't worry, that's the first thing that comes into my mind too. Today, we are going to fix a few things. 

First of all, when we learn about the spine or vertebral column in school, this is what it should really look like....

Yes, that is the real backbone. Or at least, to us writers it should be. Like each vertebrae in the spine, without one, the whole thing falls apart. you need all parts of a story for a story to flow, and honestly I don't think your MC will be very happy with you if you mess up your story in the manner. I give you one thing to do, and you mess it up? How in the world did do manage to do that? Well, trusty voice in my head, let me tell you.

You may be aware there are thousands of different ways including leaving out the hook, a dull introduction, lacking action, etc. Etc. Etc.

But, have any of you ever of falling flat with the backbone? It isn't a very widespread concept, I wouldn't be surprised if you don't know about it. But this isn't some one-in-a-million disease, this is as common as the cold. Backbonitis can be devastating even in a small infection, it can cause a major disruption in your plot and even affect your ability to write the story itself. No, this is not the infamous Writer's Block, this is an even more devious affliction.

Backbonitis starts in the beginning. If you go back to my diagram, it's right after the introduction and somewhere around baby's First Steps through Hell. Let's start by talking about Baby's First Steps through Hell.

Baby's First Steps through Hell is the introduction to your main problem, if not that, then a subplot right beforehand. (A good example of a subplot is in Graceling by Kristen Cashore, if anyone's read that. Love that book!) This is usually not the worst nitty-gritty things your character will go through, that comes later, but this is the part where they're introduced to the real world so to speak. When, going back to Graceling, Katsa is at her kill and doesn't actually kill him. Another way to put this is the turning part, the part where the character decides/is forced into changing his or her nature to move the plot along. This happens at the beginning.

In order to prevent backbonitis, you need a good flow here. The First Steps need to be First Steps, not something the character has done millions of times before in the same exact manner every time. No, it's called First Steps for a reason. This also needs to be something important. It can't be that this is the first time Peter has worn blue shoes, no it doesn't work that way. Unless, of course, Peter is a part of a secret society that wears red shoes every day, and Peter could be thrown out of the society by doing so. Then something about a gargoyle cat.... Nevermind, that's the voices in my head again.

The most crucial way to prevent this affliction is making your backbone out of something strong. It will need to be strong enough to carry the weight of your characters, your readers, your editors, your publishing company, and, most importantly, you during the complete cycle of your story.

To make it strong, you need a few things...

Believability - If you can make me believe that the greatest fear in Peter's life is having to wear blue shoes, go for it! If not........ (Be creative)

Interest - In you and your readers. If you don't absolutely love the subject, it'll never be written, don't waste your time!

Goal - Your characters need to achieve something. I don't care if you tell me the best story in the best way possible, if there's nothing to achieve, I'm almost guaranteed not to read it. Humans will only do something if it will benefit themselves; your characters are people too.

So the acronym is BIG. You need a BIG backbone in the plot of your story to carry all the weight you're putting on its back.

Title: Peter and the Blue Shoes
Author: Take Your Pick

A secret society hides in the sewers of downtown Manhattan, one of men and boys with a single goal in mind. Peter belongs to this society, but is lost somewhere in the middle. His father has kept him hopelessly unaware of what is going on like the other boys his age, but on his fourteenth birthday, things will change. 

His father will tell him the secrets of the society. 

The Master of All will give Peter his full name. 

And a gift will be given he will never forget. 

Only, Peter will make a mistake, one that might cost someone their entire future and maybe, if things go down hard, his own future as well. 

B - Do you believe in Peter? Does he sound like a person to you? Does his story seem like it would play out in a believable manner?

I - Do you want to know what happens next?

G - Peter wants to save himself, and, if possible, the other person he's threatening with his mistake.

It's important to prevent backbonitis because it could cause some serious damage to your story. You plot will become weak and break in some places, your characters might seem like they've been doing the same thing for a long time, you can loose your readers' attention as well as your own, and many other ways that will all eventually end up spelling our favorite word: R-E-W-R-I-T-E.

Make the world a better place. Stop backbonitis before it starts.

Any more questions about backbonitis? Any survivor stories out there that you would like to share?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

P/C of P/D

The Pros and Cons of Prophecies and Destiny in Your Story (The title of this post reminds me of fractions. >.< ... What did it remind YOU of?)

PRO: These two can add an overview of your plot. You know what to expect, because it's right there, expressed in writing from some wise old nun or something. Almost like a brief, overall summary. Example: the Gregor the Overlander series by Suzanne Collins (same author who wrote the Hunger Games).  But it can also be stretched to your entire series- such as the Warriors saga by Erin Hunter. "Fire alone can save our clan" and all that.

CON: It is very, very overdone. Sometimes it seems like any fantasy novel you stumble across has a prophecy in it, or the characters believe they're doing it because it's their destiny. Like the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld. I love, love, love that series, don't get me wrong, but Aleksander is convinced that all of what happens to him is destiny. Or the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordin- Percy is a pawn of some sort of prophecy or other.

PRO: It does add depth to the story, if you do it right. Again, I bring up Leviathan or the Warriors saga. Your characters are focused on something, and their reaction to this destiny/prophecy (do they fight it? Do they even believe it will come to pass?) provide detail to "flesh out" your characters, as other bloggers on here would say. :D

CON: It can make your story seem gaudy and overdone. It kind of ties in with the other con; it's kind of like vampire romances, you want it to seem original and realistic. If your character is convinced it is his destiny to fling himself off a cliff and he does so, your story ends pretty quickly. If your character scoffs at the idea of jumping off a cliff being his destiny and is desperately struggling against it, and he eventually jumps off anyways, two things are gonna happen: 1. your character will seem a little stupid. Or weak. and 2. You just wrote a completely pointless story. I usually find it's easier to stomach a book where the characters are fighting destiny, which is just my opinion. This way, if your character's destiny can at least prolong your story for more than two sentences. But back to my main point: you know your destiny/prophecy is overdone or gaudy when it is dramatic, pointless, and/or all the character thinks about.

Prophecy and Destiny are good in moderation; I've come across plenty of books with these in them and they're among my favorite reading material. But if you overdo it, you might as well bang your reader's head into the desk for them.

P.S. - if you dare write a vampire romance about a prophecy where your human and vampire are destined to fall in love, I will not be picking it up at my local bookstore. No offense.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Developing a Plot

First, I just want to say hello to anyone reading this. It's my very first time posting here, so I hope I do alright. Feel free to leave comments or questions below.

Today the topic is developing a plot. Let's be honest, there's not exactly room here for a huge essay about different techniques, examples, etc. Instead I wanted to bring up a couple things that I, as a new writer, have discovered to be essential to planning out my writing.

Time: Decide on a time frame. It can be from the beginning of the history or background to the very end. Or it can be from the moment the plot actually gets rolling until it stops (I'll call this a story frame).

For example, there could be a 10 year time frame, which would include all the background/sub-plots/characters like an older generation. Inside that could be, let's say, a 3 year story frame, in which the reader follows your main characters. It doesn't have to be as specific as the exact number of days, but a general idea is good to have. Once you have that, figuring what should happen at the beginning, at the end and in between should be easier.

Furthermore, you can basically divide up the time even further through seasons or similar periods of time (this is more likely to appear in an entirely fictitious town or city). I'll include an example from my super secret work-in-progress. Well, it's not that important...just that no one knows about it but me!

I recently decided on around 6-10 years as my time frame with 1 year as my story frame. So the reader would follow my main characters for about a year. Within that year, there are 3 separate periods of time. Note that I'm ignoring the traditional 4 seasons/year concept, because I'm writing in more of a fantasy style. I won't get into details about what goes on in each and how they transition. But deciding this is important to my plot. It's the basis for everything that's going to happen and how I will move between events. With this information, I can begin to figure out how the characters change and interact.

Want to read about believability and mood in relation to time frames? Here's a link to another post here on Cherry Tree Notes.

Time Frame

Balance: Start working on some action scenes and some emotional scenes. Try not to neglect one or the other during planning or the actual writing part, because there should by the end be a good amount of both. Now there's obviously no set number, because it depends on your characters, the frame(s) you've chosen and whether or not you're in a different world. While you need to keep the readers excited or anxious with scenes like chases or fights, remember there must still be room for characters to express emotions, learn about each other and grow at a slower pace.

Also, you've probably heard this before, but I think it's a good idea. Look at some of your favorite books or even ones you don't care for. Analyze how they've combined events to create a balance (or if they were unsuccessful in your opinion, what you would change). And consider the time frame, story frame and growth of their characters. Make notes if that helps.

I can't tell anyone what to write about or exactly how to show it. But I can offer this: don't be afraid to explore and experiment with setting, characters, and themes. Write about something meaningful and serious, or be weird and silly if you wish. Just remember to start with structural elements.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Whether To Prewrite or Not
I have to admit, I'm somewhat biased on this; I've always done extensive prewriting (or, at the very least, preplanning), and I've never really just winged it for a story. I say that you should always do a bit prewriting, even if it's just a page or so; and I'm sure that everyone has heard this before, but it does help you flesh out your world, plot, and characters that much more.

Prewriting Styles
Let's start with my favourite method: Free Writing
This can be done several different ways, but I've always free-written, when writing Fiction, by selecting a few characters and writing a few pages with them. It can be centered around a conversation that I want to include, but I don't know where, or a cool scene that I'm not going to get to for a while, but the point's that I just get some writing done that may be important to the story. I've actually created one of my main characters (who was originally just a throw-away extra) and several of my major plot points during free writing.

If you're a more artistically minded, but still like to see how things connect type of person, then Webbing/Clustering might be bit more down your alley. To begin a cluster/web chose a plot point (maybe the conflict or main character?) and keep writing down (and connecting) other plot points and relationships with other characters.

Personally, this has never really helped me; I lay more on the logically-minded side of the spectrum. What helps me, when I'm not free-writing, is listing and story specific questioning. Listing is simple, though I recommend that you have an ending in mind before you begin; what you do is write down the beginning and the ending, leaving plenty of room between the two. Then write down all the events that connect the first and last events.

Story specific questioning is where you answer questions related to your story in order to flesh out your characters.

Character Questions In depth
9 Character Questions

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Book Review: Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

It's Saturday once again, and I've got a book review today :)

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel
Publish date: October 18th, 2011 by Random House Publishing Group
//Amazon//B&N//The Book Depository//

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.
Zombies! I love zombies, whether they're the eat-your-brain kind of way or the misunderstood way. (Though I will admit that I like the eat-your-brain type a little better.)

I will also admit that while the prologue was amazing, when I started the first chapter, I didn't think I was going to like this novel. I was just too confused - I had no idea what anyone was talking about, and I had no idea if Mink and Vespertine were the same person. It made my brain hurt. And then the entire beginning of the second chapter was basically just the info-dump. So I really thought I wouldn't like it.

But then it got better. The world that Dearly, Departed is set in is fantastic - and it's something fairly new, too, so I wasn't bored with it at all. The writing, most of the time, was great. It wasn't full of unnecessary details, but at the same time, it didn't leave anything out.

The place I really had a problem with was with the conflicting narrations. Most of the book is narrated by Nora and Bram, the two main characters, but there are a few other characters in there, too. It's simply too many people narrating for me. I really think most authors should just stick with two as a maximum, maybe three if they can pull it off, because it's too easy for characters to blend together. It was fairly easy to distinguish the difference between Nora and Bram's narrations, but when you add in the others, their narrations started to sound the same.

And the ending did not make sense to me. At all. >_>

Despite that, I still really liked the book. It didn't have a totally futuristic feel to it, and I liked that because we weren't overwhelmed by new technologies or other unfathomable things, but you could still tell that it wasn't definitely in this time period. I also loved the relationships in this book - not just the romance between Nora and Bram, but the friendship between Nora and Pamela and some of the negative relationships between some of the characters.

Ah, the romance. FINALLY, NO INSTA-LOVE. Well, there may have been insta-love, but it wasn't all "OMG FIRST-SIGHT I MUST HAVE HIM/HER." The pace of the romance was nice. Very nice, especially considering some of the books I've been reading lately. Sometimes Nora was a bit too innocent/shy for my tastes, but her and Bram have some adorably-awkward moments that I absolutely loved.

Also, this book gets an extra star just because Bram was not an acts-tough-and-has-slept-with-every-girl-but-is-actually-really-sweet character. Bram came pretty close to being an innocent virgin boy, even though he was still completely awesome, and I feel like that's not something you see in YA novels very much anymore.

Overall: While I was not a fan of the beginning and I wish the amount of narrators had been cut down, the plot was fantastic, the characters even more so, and Dearly, Departed was fairly original. 4 1/2 stars.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Interview: Jamie Brook Thompson

If you're here, back again from last Friday, I want to congratulate you! Welcome back! Right off the back I would just like to point out that today is the big 11.11.11! Whoopie! And I can tell my cat is also just as happy as I am as she is purring furiously on my lap. :) For those of you doing Nanowrimo, what is it? About a week and a half now? Congrats, only a few weeks to go!

Today I have the honor of introducing Jamie Brook Thompson! She's a new author, her book Fairytale Farms has just recently come out. I thought you guys might want to hear a little about her, maybe realize that eventually, someday in forever, you'll finish your book. But remember, there's a lot of hard work from now to that day.

Anyways, I interviewed our fabulous guest so read on!


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I'm pretty much just like everybody else. A dreamer, a believer, and a friend to everyone. I have the biggest problem with meeting new people and not realizing we haven't been friends forever. I also drink way too much Pepsi because I can't get enough of those burning bubbles down the back of my throat. Blast you carbonation!

What inspired you to write?

I'm gonna go with the book that started us all... Twilight! I'll be proud to admit I love Meyers! She did what all of us dream of... Got people to read! I say a person can love or hate Meyers, but we all have to respect her... Again, Folks, she got people to read!

Can you tell us about your book? Without giving it away, of course. 

I like to write about the dark truths of reality in a world of fantasy. In Fairytale Farms, Melody, has some dark secrets she can't tell anyone about. Right off the bat, she meets a couple of cowboys who distract her from her problems. But just as she falls for one of them, he becomes sick. Her bottled secrets are destroying his magical existence. The trouble is, even though he knows he can't be with her, the cowboy can't give Melody up. And she refuses to walk away from him, even when she knows being with him might cost Melody her life.

Out of all the characters in your book, who is your favorite? If you can't choose, who would most likely be your friend if they all saw you on a daily basis?

Melody would be my best friend because she's real. She's insecure, rough around the edges, not easily won over, and really she just a scattered teenager, but deep down she's a good person. She only wants what most of us want... To be accepted and loved.

Have any books to recommend that you've read and really liked? (Besides your own, which I'm definitely reading when I get the chance.)

Rather than give you a book I've been reading, I'll tell you I'm in a huge Sarah Zarr phase right now. I can't get enough of her. She's amazing. I would recommend readers start with her book Sweethearts.

Can you give one piece of advice to our readers out there on their writing?

My advice for writers... NEVER give up! If somebody doesn't like your work, they're not your audience! Believe in yourself. You are the only one that knows YOUR story. Tell it YOUR way. Nobody else can tell it like YOU can! Have faith in yourself, and work everyday like there's no tomorrow to perfect your craft. 


Check out her blog here to find out more about her book, which in available on Amazon, Nook, and Kindle. Thanks guys and happy Friday!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Time Frame

Time Frame: A specified period in which something occurs or is planned to take place.

In relevance to writing, a time frame refers to the amount of time your book/novella/short story takes place in; a time frame can be anywhere from a day to a lifetime, or several. Sometimes choosing a time frame for your story is easy (eg. a teen summer romance, will, obviously, take place over two to three months); in other situations, it's difficult to chose how to pace your novel. 

The most important thing when choosing your pacing is to BE LOGICAL.

Whether you're writing romance, suspense, or fantasy, is to be logical and watch your pacing. You have to make sure that the events of your book, whatever they might be, are taking place in a realistic amount of time. If the events in the novel are supposed to occur over a month or two, make sure that they actually could take place within that time. 

If you have your characters traveling across the world, that not going to happen in a week/month, unless your world is about the size of a state or they have magic portals/teleportation. Do a little bit of research, and try to find examples in real life, of how long the events in your story would actually take to occur, and base a time frame off of that.  

However, you should always choose what feels NECESSARY.

If it's a simple, as in it doesn't have many events, story, you don't need to drag it out and have it take place over years. If it's a more complicated story, with many different characters, events, and world-building that need to be established, it's quite fine to have the story take place over years. 

The converse if also applicable; a simple story can take place over years, while a complicated one can take place over a week. 

Two things that a time frame affects is BELIEVABILITY and MOOD.

We've pretty much covered believability, and in previous posts as well, but I cannot stress enough how it's importance. I can't count the number of times I've scoffed and nearly put a book aside because of the romance happened within days of two characters meeting each other, wars started and were over in a week, and characters recovering from almost fatal wounds in a matter of days without any assistance. Suffice to say, if your time frame isn't realistic, readers will have a much harder time finding the book realistic and/or good.

Mood is slightly misleading, so let me clarify; the time frame that you chose to write your novel taking place in can change how it affects the reader. For example, if the novel is full of action, but only takes place over a few days, it will seems a lot more suspenseful than if the same events spanned months. A adventure novel that takes place over several years can really make it seem like the reader actually went on journey, rather than reading two characters get from point A to point B. 

To summarize, when choosing a time frame for your story be logical, do what seems necessary, as it can affect it's believeability and mood. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


The importance of world-building. Why should you create a believable world? How do you do this?

World-building, world-building, what can I say about world-building? Well, apart from the fact that, apart from the characters, it is THE thing that is most likely to make or break your story.

World-building is vitally important, and a LOT more important than a lot of people seem to think it is. World-building is one of the subtleties and arts behind being an author that is quite often overlooked when somebody is praising a book, but often picked up on when the book is being criticised. It’s like the alto line in a choir: everybody tends to notice it in the subconscious, but people tend to focus a lot more on the soprano line, or the tenor solo, or the deep base notes growling away and stabilising the bottom end. Yet, without the alto line, there would be something irreparably incomplete and unwhole and missing about the piece of music.

If you cast your mind over the best-known fantasy, sci-fi and contemporary fantasy stories and films – and by this, I don’t mean the ones that have come out in the past decade or so: I mean the ones that came out, say, last century – what is it about them that has made them endure through the ages? What is it about them that singled them out from their contemporary fellows as books to be heralded as classics? WHY do people think they are so amazing? Were there really no other books around at the time that were better written, or just as well written, or with equally riveting plots, or with just as charming, witty or evil characters? What was it that set them apart? WHY is Harry Potter, and not some other contemporary or urban fantasy that everybody seems to love and that is a New York Times Bestseller or whatever, being hailed ALREADY as one of the Classics?

If you’re anything like me, when I told you to think of a fantasy story hailed as a classic from way back when, you will instantly have turned up trumps with the Narnia novels and the Tolkein books. So, why are they so fantastic? Why have we heard of them and not of the other sci-fi or fantasy books?

To be honest, seeing as we don’t KNOW most of the other fantasy books from that age, there isn’t really a simple answer, but even compared to modern-day novels, Tolkein and C.S.Lewis (first name: Clive, for those of you who didn’t know) had that little spark of something OTHER to their novels which tends not to be seen as much nowadays. It is the way in which they have constructed their worlds.

There is not necessarily a right or wrong way to construct a world, but however you do it, it NEEDS TO BE DONE. The ONLY exception is if you are writing a general fiction book that does not require any suspension of disbelief beyond the characters’ existence. Even inventing a SCHOOL in a general fiction book requires that minor bit of world-building. If you don’t do it, you might as well not have the school. All the information about the school that you, as the author, know, doesn’t necessarily have to be crammed into the book, and it definitely shouldn’t all be at one point. World-building a school is small-scale compared to a whole world, though, and requires different degrees of detail etc., as does world-building a town in the real world, and so on. I’m going to talk for a little about world-building in the real world, then in contemporary and urban fantasy, and then in a fantasy world. As you move between the three, the amount of world-building you need to do increases drastically.

World-building in the real world

If you’ve set your story in the real world, half the problem’s already solved – unless you’ve decided to do a Ruritania and create a new country in the middle of Europe that isn’t all that often visited. (This is not the same as an Idris, which I will address in the Contemporary/Urban fantasy section.) For those of you who have never heard of Ruritania, I suggest that you look up The Prisoner of Zenda, which has been a favourite of my entire family since way back when. The author, whose name I forget, basically invented a small country in Europe where an Englishman decides to go on holiday and it all kicks off from there. No magic/fantasy/sci-fi elements involved, but it is a FANTASTIC book. But yeah. Ruritanias nowadays aren’t things people often attempt.

Like I said last paragraph, if your story’s set in the real world, half the battle with world-building is already over. People automatically get some sort of idea in their head of what a house looks like if you call it a “Victorian mansion”, or set your story in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, or decide that your character’s going to live in downtown New York. Because they’re real places that can be googled, or real things that people know about, you don’t even have to go into as much description about them if you don’t want to, not even for people who might happen to live in Kenya and only know that Kentucky exists because of KFC. Because of these reference points, we don’t need to go into TOO much detailed description if it’s something everybody knows about or has heard about. Of course, it helps, for those people who may not know what Central Park looks like, to give something in the way of a descriptor. Where the world-building kicks in in this kind of situation, though, is with things like that abandoned warehouse from which the antagonist has established his drug empire on Canary Wharf – what does it look like? Where on Canary Wharf is it? Is there a reason why it can only be accessed through hydraulic doors from under the River Thames? And with things like the school your main character is at – when was it founded? How many pupils are there? The school timetable. The grounds. The teachers. The school traditions. But, for a general fiction novel, rather than world-building, you’re probably going to have to be researching if you’re giving people information on what the world around your character is like. It depends on what kind of novel you’re trying to write. If your characters start off in Miami and end up being chased all the way across to India, you can’t just say that they got on a plane and arrived in three hours. You have to look up how long it would take, where they would land… and possibly to a reconnaissance trip, although that would depend whether or not you could (or wanted to) budget it.

World-building in a contemporary/urban fantasy

This is sort-of the step in between something set in the real world and something that’s sci-fi or high fantasy. The ultimate contemporary model of world-building for a contemporary or urban fantasy (hereafter CUF, if I need to put it in again) is the Harry Potter world that was so fabulously created by J. K. Rowling. There is quite simply nothing else like it out there. The level of depth, consideration and imagination of thought that went into the creation of that world is absolutely phenomenal. It sparkles of creativity in the books, but for anybody with access to Pottermore, you can see that what appears in the Harry Potter series is but the tip of a GIGANTIC iceberg that Rowling has spent years creating. The complexity and minute details and strange quirks and mythologies and back stories are just fascinating. Not only that, but there’s a perfect integration between the normal and the fantastical. This, in some ways, is the hardest part to master in the world-building of a CUF. Essentially, the story is set in the real world. There has to be some way of linking the fantastical elements into the real world, into everyday life, with an explanation of – if normal humans don’t realise this is going on – why the humans don’t realise what’s going on, how your MC comes to be a part of the fantasy element of the world, how your MC started off outside that (if this is applicable) and how everything in general is possible. It’s not easy to do well, although it’s not hard to come up with ideas on how everything slots into place. The trouble is that the slotting-into-place must be SEAMLESS between the real and fantastical elements. The suspension of disbelief is different to in a real-world general fiction, or to a high fantasy or sci-fi. The explanations have to be convincing. If there’s a secret organisation of magicians that continually destroy building across France, how do the ordinary people who don’t know about these magicians explain this? “Not being able to see” them isn’t enough of an explanation. How do the fantastical elements integrate with the normal ones? How do the normal elements “explain” the fantastical ones? What is the relationship between the fantastical elements and the normal ones? Normally, CUF novels spend most of their time in the fantasy realm (e.g. Harry Potter, the Mortal Instruments). In doing this, there is a danger (that both authors of the aforementioned series have avoided) of getting SO absorbed into the fantasy elements so as to ignore or forget the normal ones. Sometimes it only requires a sentence here or there, such as a person who’s part of the fantastical world getting confused over the procedures of the normal world (e.g. Mr Weasley), but it must be there. When all that seems to exist in your story is the fantastical elements and the fantastical characters of the CUF and there is little to no mention of the normal world, even though your main character is strolling through the streets of Barcelona on a daily basis, you probably ought to start worrying.

The trick for world-building in this – and, to be honest, any – situation is to go absolutely overboard, but to go overboard on a scrap piece of paper, to plan out everything, draw maps, write myths, figure out family trees , but, for CUFs, to figure out above all the relation and integration of the fantastical and the normal. Then, let all the details percolate in as you’re writing. Giving them all in one go will bury your reader under an avalanche of information that they’ll probably forget. You will probably not use all of the information about your world that you think up, but having it all there in the first place is the best way to ensure that some of it will seep through to the reader, and hopefully, if you do it right, enough of it for the reader to see your world.

If you’re doing an Idris and creating a fantastical city or fantastical land, then make sure that there is reason enough to make it different from the ordinary world. How is it hidden? Is it hidden? Why? Where is this land? How do you access it? Is it possible for ordinary people to find it by accident? In what ways is it different to an ordinary human land/city?

World-building in the realms of sci-fi and fantasy

You simply cannot write a sci-fi book or high fantasy book, or even a dystopian novel, without world-building. The story will lack any credibility whatsoever. More than for any other genre, world-building for sci-fi and high fantasy is absolutely essential. Here, though, you have to start from scratch. You only have the readers’ knowledge of plants, animals and humans on your side in a fantasy book. In a sci-fi, that can be extended to their knowledge of science. Even then, chances are that you will be renaming a number of things, inventing new technology, and throwing in a few animals that you’ve created. It is not simple, to say the least. If you want to world-build in a fantasy book, there are no two ways about it: you HAVE to do a Middle Earth.

The absolute master of this area, as far as I’m concerned, is Tolkein. Now, he spent about fifty years creating Middle Earth, and I’m sure that most of us would like to be able to build a world in a shorter time than that, but Middle Earth is an example for us to uphold. At least three different languages are in that world, alongside several thousand years of history, the cultures, myths and stories of numerous different races, a large elven dictionary (you can meet people who are fluent in Elvish, believe it or not), numerous maps, and various family trees going right back into the mists of time. If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is. C. S. Lewis also did a sterling job with the land of Narnia. Paolini did well with the Eragon books.

The one key above all others to setting up a good fantasy world, or even a sci-fi world, is the history. If your world has no history, you might as not have your world. This involves investing some time and thought, not to mention imagination, and again, I uphold the example of Middle Earth.

History explains the way things came to be and the way they are now. History shapes the landscape. History moulds politics. History creates countries. History destroys them. History gives rise to myths, legends and mysteries. History gives rise to cultures, customs and superstitions. If your world does not have a history, it is a boring world. If it is a boring world, there is no point for you to set your story there rather than on the moon.

Middle Earth has all of these. Anybody who has read anything by Tolkein will know this. There’s the history of the Dark Lords, the Rangers, the wizard order, the Rings – EVERYTHING. The stories of the elves, the tales of the dwarves… the forgotten years… incredibly. And no, I am not going to stop raving about Tolkein.

Remember: you are creating a WORLD. Not everything in it is going to be the same age. Not everything about it is going to be simple. Not all of it will necessarily yet have been discovered. Some of the settlements, civilisations, languages – I could go on – are going to be older than others. They are in the real world. Merely having hundreds of settlements that all appear to belong to the same age is not going to make your world convincing. There are bound to be ruins and battlefields somewhere, just as the slums attached to the capital city might be relatively recent.

Second key: A MAP. It’s not vital, but it’s useful. It provides the single visual aide, apart from the cover, for your reader as to your world. It allows them to pinpoint places, follow your characters’ travels, and feel more at home with your world. It also allows YOU to organise the layout of the world in your head, pinpoint important places, and attach places of historical interest (yes, history again). Look at the maps of Middle Earth. Read the stories surrounding the places on them, like the watch tower on Weathertop. Then go back to your history and revamp it. Now that you have solidified ideas and you know where everything is, you can play around with it. Maybe there used to be different countries that were then conquered and turned into the enormous empire that’s sitting on your map. Perhaps a forest used to cover the WHOLE of the south-east rather than just a little corner of it. Maybe that range of mountains was originally a line of volcanoes. The possibilities are ENDLESS.

Third key: NAMES. After spending all this time creating a map and a gigantic history, the number one way to ruin all of your hard work is to give everything real-world names. Do NOT name the capital city London. Your main character does NOT suit the name Bob. In a CUF, you can get away with using human names in the fantastical element – if you so wish – because there’s that link with the real world. Look at how C. S. Lewis did Narnia: for the children coming from the real world, they had had normal, real-world names – Lucy, Peter. Then look at the characters from Narnia: Caspian, Rillian. Human, yes, but fantastical names. If, in a fantasy world, you REALLY feel the drive to use human names, two things:

ONE. Only ever use them for humans. A dwarf called Sam or a fuzzleglump called Billy are just going to make your reader laugh at you.

The exception to this is if they are diminutive forms of a fantastical name, such as Samwise (Gamgee!) or Abbilldango.

TWO. Please, remember it’s a fantasy realm. At least choose names that suite it, or choose real names that are so unusual that they seem fantastical. How many of you here, for example, knew that Gandalf is actually a real name? All thought it was made up, didn’t you? WRONG. Follow Tolkein’s example, people.

Really, for hard-core fantasy lovers, there is NOTHING that destroys a world more than seeing elves and dwarves and magic bursting over every page and then reading “and then Kerry turned, wand raised –” No. Do not discredit yourself and do something like that. Choose a name and MAKE IT UP. Much as I love the Eragon books, I wince every time Katrina appears. That’s a name that belongs in the real world. If you have to do it, though, be consistent. If you’re using real-world names for your humans (and please don’t), ALL humans must have real-world names, otherwise it doesn’t make sense and you again kill the world-building.

Be sensible in naming. Remember that, aside from your characters, you also have to name all of the towns, rivers and countries, probably some boats, and quite possibly some species of plants and animals. Sometimes, this will need to be in more than one language. There seems to be an overwhelming tendency to give everything a name starting with “a” or to shove in as many vowels as possible (e.g. Aidieuira), which is annoying to the reader and usually means that you have to include a pronunciation guide. When naming, for one, remember that consonants exist. For two, remember that there are many different combinations of sound. If you’ve decided that a particular dialect favours some sounds more than others, fair enough, but remember to give your dialect a region and to stick those names ONLY in that region, or explain the migration thereof. If you have a Ganzanga-named city in the middle of the elven forest, be sure to mention at some point that the Ganzangas had used to inhabit the forest before the elves kicked them out, and that is why the city (or its ruins) are there with that name.

Also, choose different names for different dialects, or different name patterns. It’ll make life a lot easier. Trudi Canavan, for example, has a formulaic way of name-endings which allows the reader to tell which country her characters are from. It’s a neat, simple trick, and very useful to the reader if you have a lot of characters from different countries. It helps to keep a tab on who’s who.

Key four: languages. These aren’t necessarily essential, and they take more time than anything else, I suppose, but it’s nice if they exist, or some reference to an awareness of them exists if you haven’t the time, patience or imagination to come up with one. For those of you who DO want to create one, simply making up words to replace English ones isn’t enough. You need to figure out a grammar and a syntax for them. Tolkein and Paolini both did this, Paolini to a lesser extent. If you are creating a language, there will ALWAYS be somebody who tries to figure out the patterns in the language. If your book takes off, some nutters will probably try to learn the language. Copping out is not an option. If you’re creating a language, put some thought into it. What denotes a noun? How do the verbs conjugate? Are there irregular plurals? AND REMEMBER THAT COUNTRIES, IF THEY DO NOT HAVE DIFFERENT ACCENTS, WILL ALMOST DEFINITELY HAVE DIFFERENT LANGAUGES. Please, people, a world is not like the United States of America. People do not all speak the same language. Heck, people don’t always even speak the same language in one country. Witness Belgium. I LIVE there. There are TWO national languages. Even if it’s just a dwarvish race that has a different language and they know a language that appears to be a lingua franca and is the language of your MC, that’s better than nothing. Better still if your MC travels from East to West and has problems in the far west as he/she is unable to understand the accent or language in this new country. For one, it means you get to throw in a new character as an interpreter, or you can make your MC more awesome by knowing another language, or you can involve some humorous moments when your MC doesn’t understand the idiom of a different language. You don’t necessarily have to have him talking in this different language the whole time: keep it in English if you want and just mention somewhere which language they’re talking in. And make sure that different places are named accordingly if there are different languages. If a country has a different language, play around with the dialect. They might like to incorporate more “cz” sounds in than the northern countries, for example. Show it by putting it into place names.

Key five: politics. This kind of goes with history, but if you’re like me and hate politics, you don’t have to set a lot of precedence by it. However, it helps if the political situation in your world is more than just “evil x controlling y land and there’s a group of ‘rebels’ who are the good guys seeking to overthrow x”. No. Life is not as simple as that. Even within the rebels, there will be political tensions, dissentions… and they will probably not be the only people dissatisfied. There will be sympathisers, and people who sympathise but are too afraid to help. Country J might be standing neutral. City-state P could be supplying weapons to both sides. Island nation B might be totally unaffected. Aspiring nomad tribe T might decide to sweep in in the middle of the war and knock out the rebels and evil x and take over the world instead.

Key six: myths and legends, religions and superstitions.

Religions and superstitions aren’t necessarily important, but you have to give thought to the way that ancient cultures operated without scientific explanations. In a sci-fi, you don’t really need religions or superstitions, but they can add depth to your characters if you want to create them. Humans WANT to be able to explain the things around them. They want to feel protected from harmful things. It’s an innate part of our psychology. Giving them the location of a different world doesn’t make the humans not human. Those desires are still there. Whether or not you choose to make them dominant is another matter, but don’t just go throwing in the name of a god and its patronage anywhere. Give the gods a history, a story, a few godlings, chosen people, possibly world interventions, a family of gods – that kind of thing. Look for models in the mythological gods, and it might give you ideas.

Myths and legends. Considering that the story you are writing would probably be a “legend” of your world and that the character would probably pass on into “myth”, it makes sense that there would be other myths and legends. It also creates a sense of history to your world. Tolkein had them. Some of them are even repeated for us in Lord of the Rings. Myths and legends are other ways that people use to explain things, how things came to be, in story form. Think of the Just So stories. But please, don’t make the mistake of only having one myth or legend for your world (what world only has one? A community or a country, maybe, just MAYBE might have as few as one) that’s mentioned in the book, and that myth or legend coincidentally (or purposefully) being the myth or legend that just happens to have an enormous impact on the story. No, small things have myths and legends too. Ghost stories, for example, to explain noises. And the other thing: if they’re going to be relevant to the plot, don’t drop them in just as they become relevant. If possible, try to find some way to weasel them in beforehand, but don’t be heavy-handed about it, or the reader will see it coming and will be annoyed at an easy plot twist to guess. Try mixing the myths and legends that are important to the plot with one or two trivial myths and legends that aren’t. It gives more variety and makes the world more interesting, as not EVERYTHING that the reader finds out about it turns out to be of vital importance to the plot. Having things that are less important to the plot but important to the WORLD actually makes the world seem more real.

There are other elements to world-building, but these are the broad, over-arching ones you want to consider when doing fantasy. Beyond that, the details are small. Description. Setting the scene. On average, despite all this world-building, you will probably only use a tiny bit of it. Don’t feel it’s worthless doing all that work. It’s not. Once it’s all straight in your head, you a) won’t have the problem of trying to make it up as and when needed as you go along, and b) parts of it will trickle, even subconsciously, through into your story, and you’re less likely to information dump, unless you’re consciously trying to give out a lot of information.

But most of all, whatever you’re world-build for, love your world. Cherish it. Because if you don’t, it’s going show, and then your world will die. And if your world dies, your book will become extremely lacklustre.


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