We're experiencing a couple of technical blips behind the scenes, so bear with us. Today's giveaway entry period will be extended until noon tomorrow, and the link for the e-book should go live as soon as we can get the blasted thing to upload. Your patience is much appreciated. Added: Links to worldbuilding notebook are (finally) live, see below.
The winners of the VW#3 giveaway are:
Goodie Bag: Rob
Winners, please send your full name and ship-to address to LynnViehl@aol.com, and I'll get these prizes out to you.
I. If You Build It, They Will Read
The single most awe-inspiring activity involved with writing is world-building. The writer who world builds becomes Master of the Universe. In true Omnipotent Being fashion, the writer begins with nothing but a vision of What Could Be. They wave their magic hands over the keyboard and suddenly, there are words that shine like an unwavering light upon a whole new world, complete with fascinating people in exciting places doing incredible things.
Well, maybe we do a little more than wave our hands over the keyboard. Okay, a lot more. And there's no magic involved (that comes later, we hope, for the person reading the story.) No mystical light or omnipotent power goes into play, either. To be frank, a writer takes two elements -- imagination and words -- and employing only those two raw materials, writes a story about a fictional world.
Sounds really simple, doesn't it? Imagine it, write it, you're done. But between the imagining and the writing, the writer has to do a couple of other things.
II. What We Build, and Why
The very first time I built a new world, I bombarded roughly half of the land surfaces of this planet with nuclear weapons. The initial detonations wiped out about 40% of the population, and fallout from the bombs quickly poisoned another 30%. Over the next decade, about half of my survivors were blamed for the nuclear war and sent to a remote, radiation-tainted prison where most of them died. Grim does not begin to describe how truly awful my post-Apocalyptic vision of the world was. Only when I had brought the human race to the brink of extinction did I begin to rebuild Earth into a kind of quasi-Jurassic Park wonderland, complete with a full resurgence of dinosaurs.
My reason for building such a terrible world was the state of the world in which I lived. I was born during the Cold War. Every world power had ICBMs ready to be launched while they snarled and bitched at each other. Castro very kindly parked a number of nuclear warheads about a hundred miles from my house. My older siblings had actually practiced nuclear attack drills by hiding under their desks in school; people who had built bomb shelters in their backyards would not be considered crazy for another decade. When I imagined my first future world, I built it on what I expected the future world to be: a decimated, radioactive wasteland.
As for the dinosaurs, well, I was twelve. I thought they were cool.
I wanted to share my vision of the future, too, so I turned in this horrific little gem to my seventh grade English teacher. He kept it for two weeks, gave me some extra credit and, when I asked him to give back my story, told me that he threw it in the garbage.
The moral of the story? Before you build a world, remember it's going to be shared by others. And before you let anyone read a story, especially an squicky English teacher who wears a replica Billy Jack hat to cover his lousy comb-over, make a copy of it.
III. The Foundation
Whether it's real or imagined, building a world first requires something to inspire that world. Like me, you may start with a character and build around them, basing your choices on the demands of the characterization and the story they have to tell. If you prefer to build first and populate later, you still have to center your construction on something. Your foundation may be a setting, a concept, an event – it doesn’t matter, as long as it inspires you.
Once you've decided what your inspiration is, that character or setting or conflict should always serve as the foundation for all your construction. When in doubt, always return to the foundation to determine what best serves your original inspiration. A world without a strong, solid foundation that connects in some way to everything in the story generally collapses under the weight of too many pointless elements.
Example: Akela, our friend from Part I of the workshop, is the foundation of Red Branch story construction. Everything in the story relates to her in some fashion, because everything in the story was custom-built based on her characterization. The way she fights, the weapons she carries, even the animal she rides were all designed with her in mind.
This is not to say that everything I wrote in Red Branch suits Akela. On the contrary -- I threw a lot of conflict at her that she wasn't prepared to deal with at all. At times Akela felt like her world was falling apart. She had to make decisions and adapt as things she had always taken for granted abruptly changed. She didn't like the changes, and in fact wanted nothing to do with them, but she had to deal with them. For me this is the heart and soul of any protagonist’s tale: not what caters to them, but what compels them to change.
IV. The Blue Prints
Once you’ve broken ground and created the foundation for your world, the next step naturally is to build the rest of it. But before you begin creating societies and lexicons and global conflicts, you might consider putting together a rough outline of your story’s plot, i.e.:
Akela is sent to find Jalon, and bring him back to her Queen.
Danu sends mercenaries after Akela, who kills them.
Akela meets Jalon, who is a male version of her Queen.
Akela teaches Jalon how to fight the Queen.
Danu brings his pregnant daughter to Akela, who delivers her Spinner infant.
Akela, Jalon and the infant return to the Queen.
Jalon telepathically overpowers the Queen and prevails.
From my outline of Red Branch, I knew in advance what portions of this world I would need to build. I needed the characterizations for Jalon, the Queen, Danu, the mercenaries, his daughter and the infant Spinner. I had to describe Akela’s physical journey, including the inn where she slept and the darkmare she used for transportation. I had to do the same for Jalon’s current living situation, his home and his life among the humans who had raised him. I invented the manner in which Spinners fight, deliver infants and use telepathy. Finaly I put together the showdown between Jalon and the Queen.
Using an outline of your plot as a building plan, you can create with purpose as well as efficiency. It may not be as much fun as free-building whatever you like, but building only what you need may help prevent unnecessary characters, details and other elements from choking the life out of your story.
V. Building Code Violations
There are some fairly common mistakes I see other writers make when world-building, but one that seems to be almost universal these days is when a writer sets up and then immediately violates some unbreakable rule of their world construct. In paranormal romance, for example, this is usually when an unfathomable attraction for a human heroine causes an immortal hero to defy the rules of his deity (who forbids him to trifle with human chicks), expose his own existence (which is supposed to be kept strictly concealed from humans) or break a vow of celibacy (because if he has sex with a human, the world as we know it will come to an end.)
I’m not a fan of the breaking the unbreakable rule plot device. I like the flexible rule, the old rule hardly anyone pays attention to anymore, and my personal favorite, the rule that everyone agrees is stupid and stops using long before the story begins.
Other things that can wreck your construct:
The gigantic hole in your world: let's say, for example, you have aliens in your story who use their superior intelligence and technology to invade Earth unnoticed, infiltrate our society, and begin snatching our bodies without anyone catching on until it’s far, far too late. So tell me, why would they not have the means to conceal the single tell-tale physical sign that they are possessing a human body? They’re capable of interstellar travel and world domination, but they can’t pop in some contact lenses?
A skimpy little excuse does not cover a gigantic hole in the world; it only draws attention to it. Fill in your holes properly, or rebuild that element of the story until it works correctly.
Thinly-veiled grindstones: If the insane, brutal, bloodthirsty war-mongering sadistic dictator in your novel is named G’e Orgeb Ush, and he’s defeated by a group of wise, thoughtful but weary philosophers who subsequently outlaw religion but spread benevolent Socialism among the grubby masses, you're probably not voting for McCain this fall, am I right?
Trotting your cleverly disguised personal griefs with the government back and forth in front of your reader is about as tasteful as dropping change on the lunch room floor so you can look up some girl's skirt. It's also offensive and annoying. Spare your reader from the armchair politics, please.
The Just Because Anomaly: A writer builds a world that is completely logical and realistic, except for this one thing -- in SF, usually some sort of life form or technology -- that is completely out of whack with the rest of the construct (remember my dinosaurs from Nuked World?) This one thing is never explained or justified. It's just there, like a big honking magical wart on the story.
If you want me to believe that there's an elephant in the living room, you're going to have to show me the circus caravan it escaped from, the pasture fence it knocked over, and the wall it smashed through to get into the house.
Auld Lang Syners -- the story features an inactive element (i.e. a dead character or a long-gone civilization) that is way more interesting than the present elements. For the reader, this is akin to the author plopping an Egyptian pharaoh’s undiscovered tomb down in the center of a trailer park and then saying to them “Ignore that tomb. You’re only allowed to watch what happens in the trailers.”
I cannot say this often enough: if your backstory is more interesting than your current era, you're writing the wrong story.
Babeling -- the story features an invented language that is used so often that the reader cannot follow the dialogue.
I love languages, and I'm a bit of a snob myself about explaining/translating them for the reader, but even I know cer a'denai etfi calhadre gemot tursavey. Sure, I may understand every word of that, e ylulo ceres gibbor frenza. So when you put invented language in your story, remember that e ylulo (the reader) needs a point of translation, like a definition in context (all these ey ylulon do is sit around and read books) or a glossary of some sort (e ylulo: one who reads extensively.)
VI. Finishing Touches
There is always a point toward the end of my world-building when I feel like I'm ready to write the story. It's like having an itch inside the brain and writing is the only way to scratch it. I'll start jotting down lines of dialogue or paint a second version of a setting. But before I write a single word of story, I perform a thorough inspection of the construct.
What I look for:
Necessities-- have I fleshed out everything I'm going to need to know while I'm writing? If my protag is going to be swinging a sword around, have I decided the type of sword he uses, and how he learned to swing it? If he's a poor peasant boy who came from the Village of the Dull, how did he get that sword and who taught him how to use it?
Logic -- Do I have anything in the story that the reader is not going to understand? Do I need it, or is it one of those Just Because dinosaurs that I thought was cool?
Balance -- are all the world elements developed in a harmonious way? Did I skimp or go overboard with anything? Does anything in the backstory overshadow the present? Is there anything that is the equivalent of a Pharaoh's tomb in the trailer park?
Clarity -- is this a world anyone can visit, or does my reader need to go to back to college and major in psychology, astrophysics or sociology before they touch a page? (Or, is Mom going to call me after she reads it and say, "Honey, I really liked it, except for that part in the laboratory, and that computer thing, and the weird alien with the two heads that did that funny little dance at the end. What was that all about?")
To help you with the next world you build, I've uploaded a world-building notebook here on Scribd* (please note: cover art has mysterious lines running through it for reasons we're not yet able to fathom or fix) and here (in .pdf format, with line-free cover art.) Please feel free to adapt it to your building needs and to share it with other writers who might find it useful. *Note 9/3/10: Since Scribd.com instituted an access fee scam to charge people for downloading e-books, including those I have provided for free for the last ten years, I have removed my free library from their site, and no longer use or recommend using their service. My free reads may be read online or downloaded for free from Google Docs; go to my freebies and free reads page for the links. See my post about this scam here.
VII. Before You Build
The most important world-building decision you'll probably ever make is one you're probably not aware that you've even made. It may be decided before you jot down one note or type a single line. It's the answer to this: for whom are you building this world, yourself, the reader, or both of you?
A world designed with only you in mind is probably going to be one only you and a few people like you can appreciate. A world built according to what you think the reader wants is going to look like a lot of other worlds they already like. I think the best worlds are those that are as unique as the builder but that remain accessible to anyone who wants to come and take the tour.
Today's LB&LI giveaways are:
1) --The original watercolor I painted for the cover of my workshop companion e-book, It Only Took God Six Days ~ World Building within Reason, signed and framed, along with signed copies of my StarDoc novels Rebel Ice and Omega Games and my Darkyn novels Dark Need and Twilight Fall.
2) a goodie bag which will include unsigned copies of:
Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos (hardcover)
Steal the Dragon by Patricia Briggs
Wild Hunt by Lori Devoti
The Serpent Bride by Sara Douglass
Pleasure Unbound by Larissa Ione
In Danger by Alison Kent
The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu
Unleashed by Kristopher Reisz
Through the Veil by Shiloh Walker
plus signed copies of my novels Omega Games and Twilight Fall, as well as some other surprises.
If you'd like to win one of these two giveaways, comment on this workshop before noon EST tomorrow, August 1, 2008. I will draw two names from everyone who participates and send one winner the goodie bag and the other the painting and books. Everyone who participates in the giveaways this week will also be automatically entered in my grand prize drawing on August 5, 2008 for a brand new AlphaSmart Neo. All LB&LI giveaways are open to anyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.
Other LB&LI Workshop Links -- new links are being added every day, so keep checking the list for new workshops (due to different time zones, some of these will go live later in the day)
Worldbuilding with a Wiki by Sandra Barret -- Architecting your world using a free wiki.
Brainstorming by Jove Belle -- A discussion on brainstorming.
E-Courtesy by Joely Sue Burkhart -- Simple ways to protect yourself with courtesy on the internet.
The Anatomy Of Sex Scenes by Jaci Burton -- Writing sex can sometimes be the most uncomfortable part of writing the book. But it doesn't have to be. A few key pointers that may help charge up your sex scenes and drag the writer out of their 'discomfort' zone.
Creating Great Beginnings - the Why and How by Sherryl Clark -- If your beginning works, the rest will follow. We're going to look at why it's crucial, what is the contract with the reader, Dos and Don'ts (and why/why not), story questions vs hooks, situating the reader, and writing backwards. I'll also invite readers to send in their first 200 words for feedback.
Sound Effects--consonance, assonance, alliteration by LJ Cohen -- a week of workshops using poetry and poetic techniques useful for novelists (tune in each day this week as LJ presents different poetic tools with examples of how to use them in your own writing.)
Gender Differences for Writers by Cheryl Corbin -- Male and female body language, speech and thinking differences.
Research for Writers by Bianca D'Arc -- a librarian/writer's view of where to find the best information and strategies for how to use it.
Marketing on a Budget by Moondancer Drake -- How to make the most of marketing your book on a limited budget.
Writing Effective Description by Karen Duvall -- a week of workshops on how to write vivid description using all the senses, covering one for each day of the week.
WRITING PROCESS: Conceive, Develop, Write by Jamal W. Hankins -- An overview of my writing progress from story concept to actually writing a story.
The Voices in Your Head by Alison Kent -- When discussing "voice," where and how do character voices fit in?Also: All Authors Should Be Wordsmiths
Everyone has to Edit by Belinda Kroll -- Five steps to edit: putting the first draft away, being brutally honest, showing not telling, telling not showing, and focusing on those nitty gritty details.
Balancing Motherhood and Writing by Dawn Montgomery, Kim Knox, and Michelle Hasker -- How to write a 1000 words in the zen of toddler meltdowns. Motherhood is a full time job and holding a family together is only half the battle. How do you find *your* time to write without losing your mind?
Self-Editing by Emma Wayne Porter -- The things your editor secretly wishes you'd do before submitting, and how to survive Track Changes afterward. Checklists and Stupid Word Tricks included.
Not Going to Frisco Workshop by Joan Reeves aka Sling Words -- Writing Biz Reality
Cover Art: From Form to Finish by Mandy M. Roth -- Tips and tricks for filling out your cover art forms, the steps and stages a cover goes through, the finished product and a walkthrough on using your cover to make your own static banner ad.
When Only the Right Word Will Do by Shannon Stacey -- Using word choices to add humor, help you show instead of tell, strengthen your voice and heighten characterization in deep POV in your second draft.
Hey Fatty (Or Does Your Character Need That Flaw) by Amie Stuart -- I’ll be blogging about Characterization, flaws and motivation all week, using TV, movies, books and my own writing for examples.
Astronomy for Writers: Look to the Sky
by Suelder -- Planetary Primer, The Inner Planets, The Gas Giants, Planetoids: Pluto and the Asteroids (the third in a five-part workshop series on basic astronomy and how to think about it from a writer's perspective.)
Time Management by Charlene Teglia -- the third in Charlene's workshops this week on the business of the business.
Short Stories & Novellas- Workshop Day II - Characterization by Shiloh Walker -- the second in a series on writing short stories and novellas.
VOICE: The Magic Behind The Words by Sasha White -- Advice to help you discover and strengthen your personal voice and style, and show you the way to the magic behind the words.
Workshop is in 5 sections. A new section each day this week.