Tag Archives: world building tips

World Building: Where to Start, What to Consider, & How to End

17 Jul

I mainly write science fiction and fantasy, and both of those genres tend to come with heavy world building. A few of you have asked me where I begin. How do I start? How do I know when to write? When does world building end? Well, if you read my editing tips series, then you probably know my answer to most of this.

I don’t think it’s that important to have your world building down in your first draft or while you’re outlining. Why? Because you don’t know everything your world needs yet in order to tell your story. All that matters is having your world building down by the end of your drafts. That being said, I tend to spend more time on initial world building than I do with character profiles or plot outlines. Why? Because my world will affect my characters directly—and that tends to be when I start writing.

That’s right. I begin most of my stories with a scene or an idea, and then I world build…and I keep building until the world affects my characters directly. Then I start to write.

So how do I build my worlds?

Extra tip: World build together. Try to explain your world to a friend. If they ask questions you can’t answer, find an answer.

Well, let’s start with the foundation.

Think of the basics. Where are we? What is the climate? Is it temperate, freezing, humid, etc.? What are the seasons like and which season/s is your story taking place in? How does this location relate to the locations around it?

My favorite place to start is clothes. Why? Because clothes tell us about societal structures—like income class, careers, etc.—and also about the land/weather patterns. Are they wearing cotton? If so, where does the cotton come from? Who collects the cotton and uses that cotton to create clothes? How much does it cost, and who would wear it? Example: Throughout history, the upper-class generally wore clothes from far away to emphasize how rich they were; those clothes were expensive because of how far the materials had to travel (and how expensive the upkeep was.)

The next element I consider the most is water. Why? Because water is essential for life, including animal life, which means you’re looking at how people eat, clean up, make medicine, etc. Not to mention that water, like rivers and lakes, have been used as natural borders for a long, long time (along with mountains). So where does the water come from? How were borders decided? Start thinking about other natural materials on your land. What materials are used to make buildings, for instance?

Now time: What year is it, and how does that year in particular define your character/s? I tell new writers to at least understand their main characters and their family structure for three generations back. This information doesn’t have to go into your book, of course, but knowing where your protagonist came from, including how their parents raised them and why, will help you shape their family unit and beliefs. This brings me to my last two topics: Religion and language.

  • With religion, personally, I think the most important part of a person’s religion can be summed up in their burial practices. Start there. Most of the time, burial practices relate to how that person sees life, death, and how both their life and their death is connected to the land. This includes if your characters don’t have a religion at all.
  • When I am building a language, I focus on two elements first: How do people curse and how do people say I love you. Why? Because humans are built on emotion, and hate/love are the two strongest emotions and the biggest umbrellas of emotion out there. By finding out how they express those emotions, both as a culture and as an individual, you can start to shape everything in between.

Please keep in mind that this information—like where materials come from—doesn’t have to be explicitly stated in your book. In fact, I can’t recall a time where I talked about where water came from in most of my books. But it can help to know the simple, basic elements of your world. They are your foundation, after all. And the stronger your foundation, the stronger the rest of your world building will be. In fact, I only covered where I begin. I didn’t even get into magic systems, for instance. (Another favorite topic of mine.)

Build and keep building. Don’t be afraid if you feel intimidated, and don’t get frustrated when your world contradicts itself or doesn’t make sense at all. You have all the time in the world to…well, build your world. Take your time. Take notes. And enjoy the journey of discovering a brand-new place that your characters—and you—will call home.

~SAT

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#WritingTips Choosing a Setting

1 Feb

Every Monday, I recover previous posts that were popular, but I tackle them in a whole new way. Today, I’m covering how to choose a setting for your novel or poem or short story or whatever you’re writing. The original post, Setting: Picking a Location, can be read by clicking the link, and it covers other aspects to keep in mind, but today, I only want to tackle two ideas: real-world settings and imaginary ones.

1. Real-World Settings: Write What You Know or Research

When you’re writing about a place in the real world, you honestly have two options: write what you know or write after you research extensively. This is especially true if you’re writing a historical piece, but that’s a completely different topic to cover, so I’m basically talking about the here and now. If you’re making a decision, don’t pick what is easiest. Instead, pick what is right for your story. In fact, you might have to write your story’s first draft to realize what type of setting you need, and that’s perfectly okay. As long as you figure out what you need and where you need to go, do it the way that feels right to you as a writer. But once you know what you need, you can start researching. I always suggest considering places you already know, but I am probably biased because I moved all around the country as a kid, so I have a plethora of places to consider. That being said, you can always travel too, but please don’t think you MUST travel in order to write about a place. While Ally Carter does travel a lot—and bases many of her books on those places—she also says, “I try and try and try to get people to believe me when I say that my job is basically looking at a whiteboard covered with sticky notes and/or a computer and/or big stacks of paper all day long.” This is how picking a setting (or any part of your novel) is going to go. Research and think and research again. Even better? Research is SO easy nowadays. You can even talk to someone from that exact location if you want to. All you have to do is join a forum. One thing I’ve always loved is pretending I’m moving there. (If I play “your life is about to change dramatically,” it forces me to take it very, very seriously.) Look at the setting via Google Maps, read a travel guide, research schools, check out the town’s official website, talk to people who live there or have in the least been there. You can do it. Look at it this way, if you can spend months writing about it, you can take a week or three reading about it. One of my favorite tools—even just for fun reading—is Earth Album. You just click, and voila! Pictures of the location and the name, so you can start Googling. If you click on the picture too, it will generally send you to the source of the image so you can research it in-depth. It’s a good place to start.

A screenshot of Earth Album

A screenshot of Earth Album

Fun fact: Although not a real town, Haysworth, Kansas in The Timely Death Trilogy was a combination of two towns in Kansas: Hays and Ellsworth—both of which I’ve been to. I also lived in Kansas for seven years, so I was very familiar with the landscape, laws, people, beliefs, etc., and I wanted to have a paranormal story take place in the Midwest, especially since the Midwest is underrepresented in paranormal YA (actually in YA in general)…despite the fact that we have a gate to hell in Stull. (Google it. It’s a big deal to us Kansans…even though I’m a Missourian now.)

2. Imaginary Settings: World-Building and Map-Making

I could write an entire month’s worth of blog posts about world building, so this is going to be ridiculously brief, but I hope it’s a place to start. Just like the above option, I think it’s most important to figure out what your story needs first, but once you have that, you can start building. Again, that doesn’t mean I think you have to know all of this before you write. You can write the entire story to figure it out, and then, change everything in editing. Personally, I like building from the little details to the bigger ones, which I know is the opposite of many writers, but that’s okay, because I figured out what worked for me. (Most of my writing tips, you might notice, revolve around the idea of figuring out who you are as a writer.) I start with the story details, and I work my way up to a giant map. This way, I have my “rules” in place. I have the political systems, the social expectations, the movements, the beliefs, the types of people, the places, etc. Now, if you want to start with a map first, I’d suggest studying maps. See how they are drawn and draw yours. If you want something random, watch this YouTube video. It’s freakin’ awesome, and it’s an easy way to get all different types of terrain on various landscapes.

Personally, I am in the process of writing an epic fantasy, and I did it the old-school way: a piece of paper and a pen and a bunch of sticky notes. My living room was covered. (Because that’s what works for me.) Overall, it’s important to create a world just as rich and diverse as our world is today. Even if it’s a walled-in city, different types of people and beliefs will exist. Don’t sell your world short. Explore it, take notes on it, explore it some more. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to include every little detail of your imaginary world in your book (especially not in the first chapter), but knowing as much as possible can help fine-tune your voice and your characters. If you’re going to take inspiration from history, be honest but be respectful. That means being diligent. Be everything you’d want a future writer to be in regards to if they took inspiration from your lifetime or your country. Create a world we’ve never seen before.

Fun fact: Take Me Tomorrow and November Rain both take place in the near-future U.S., but were built very differently. The Tomo Trilogy takes place throughout the entire country, while Bad Bloods takes place in one walled-in city. While Take Me Tomorrow was largely built around rail transportation in the U.S., November Rain was built on a real city I never actually name in the story (but I do give hints as to what it is). The epic fantasy I mentioned above doesn’t take place in this world at all. That took a lot more time and consideration to create, but it was well worth it in the end.

Create, and create well. And, of course, have fun.

~SAT

Come get your books signed on February 13, from 1-3 PM during the Barnes & Noble Valentine’s Day Romance Author Event in Wichita, Kansas at Bradley Fair. Come meet Tamara GranthamCandice GilmerTheresa Romain, Jan Schliesman, and Angi Morgan! If you haven’t started The Timely Death Trilogy, don’t worry. Minutes Before Sunset, book 1, is free!

Minutes Before Sunset, book 1:

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Seconds Before Sunrisebook 2:

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Death Before Daylightbook 3:

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The Timely Death Trilogy Explained: World-Building and More

9 Jun

With three days until the eBook of Seconds Before Sunrise releases, I’ve been wondering how to celebrate it, and I think I found a way, but I wanted to give a little update first. As many of you know, The Timely Death Trilogy was finished a long time ago, but I have worked on extensive editing. In fact, all three of the novels were around 136,000 words until I got them down to 80,000. Since receiving my content edits for Death Before Daylight a few weeks ago, I’m about 17,000 words into the final piece. But there’s also a new project looming on the horizon that I could’ve never saw coming.

I may have finished writing The Timely Death Trilogy in 2009, but I never thought my other characters would want to tell their story. Here and there – between editing all three books – a small voice came to me that I didn’t recognize. And then another voice came, and I began taking notes. Suddenly, I realized what characters the voices belonged to: Jim and Kimberly.

If you’ve read the trilogy, you might recognize “Jim” (He also goes by Bracke or Mr. Welborn.) Kimberly, on the other hand, has not been mentioned by her first name – Eric’s mother. Despite knowing her past – including what we will learn in Death Before Daylight – I have never heard Kimberly’s voice before. In fact, I had never heard Jim’s either. Especially from when they were kids.

So I’ve currently been working on a prequel.

I don’t know if I will publish it. I don’t know if I will even finish it. But I wanted to mention it because I thought it would be a good way to lead into today’s post:

I am often asked many questions about the details of my paranormal world, including cultural significance and supernatural capabilities. Although most (if not all) of the information is scattered throughout the stories, I thought it would be fun to share extras to everyone – especially if you are an avid reader of my blog but haven’t had a chance to read my books. Hopefully, after today, my references to shades, double identities, the Naming, and more will make sense now. I am also sharing photos from my Pinterest board for The Timely Death Trilogy to add to the explanations. (Click here for the full board to see even more.)

Disclaimer: there might be a few spoilers here and there.

How the Paranormal World Exists with the Human One:

Double Identities:

Almost every character in The Timely Death Trilogy has two identities – a human identity and a paranormal one, but no one knows one another’s identities.

Example: Eric Welborn is a human, but he transform into a shade named “Shoman.” No one is supposed to know that Eric is Shoman or that Shoman is Eric. However, Eric’s guard, Camille, knows both of his identities, and he knows both of her names. Camille’s human name is Teresa.

This is how the “Light” and the “Dark” coexist during everyday, human life. As humans, no one truly knows who the person next to them can be: a light, a shade, or just human. (I will explain how their physical appearance changes below.)

Cultural Significance in Paranormal World (Rituals)

The Naming Ceremony:

Shades do not have Dark names at birth. In fact, they don’t even have their full set of powers. The only power they do have is the ability to transform. But everything changes when they turn 13.

b7a349b151148bb4cf546c94763b24bfThe “Naming” is a ceremony done during “the last harvest” – an evening that usually takes place in January for the Dark. (Yes, the Dark has their own calendar.) Every 13-year-old at the time enters the meeting room where they receive their Dark name and some power. Boys are given glitter to throw, and girls are given crowns. But they must vow themselves to the Dark before they are told the prophecy. Once this happens, the shades receive their full powers, and the “Naming” is complete.

In Minutes Before Sunset we see Pierce’s little brother named, “Brenthan.”

So why the crowns? Why the glitter? And what is with the age and order of events?

Well, this is one of the biggest pieces I want to write the prequel for, but it goes back to when the bloodline first appears. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say this: the crown represents an important figure, and the glitter showcases all the different colors that “Dark” powers contain: mainly blue, green, white, and purple. Each color also stands for a different type of power, blue = warrior, green = guard, white = elder, and purple = well…that is one of the bigger surprises in Minutes Before Sunset.

Defining the Paranormal Beings:

Shades – What can they do? What do they look like? 

745226b2e50da562533a3bb7fc8e87beShades are members of the Dark. First and foremost, they can transform into shades, mainly at night. For the most part, their powers are confined to nighttime hours. However, they can use their telepathy at all times, including when they are human (although this does take a lot of practice.) When they are transformed, shades can transport in and out of shadows, shoot beams of power at one another, and even fly. But only the descendants have swords. Yes. Swords.

Shades have gray or very white, sometimes stone-like, sometimes translucent skin. They’re eyes are also light-colored in nature, and the color normally correlates with their dominant power color: blue, green, purple, or white. For instance, we see white eyes with Eu, green eyes with Pierce, blue eyes with Shoman, and purple eyes with Jessica. (Before you think I spoiled the fact that Jessica is the “nameless” shade, it says so on the back of the book, and she practically says it during her very first line.)

They always have black hair or very, very dark brown hair.

But there’s one vital rule to remember: when shades transform from their human form, more than their eye color and hair color change. Their entire body changes, including facial features, height, and more, but it also goes beyond that. Personalities, and ethnicities can change – ::future book hint:: – even gender is subject to change.

Create (Human) Relatable References for Paranormal World:

How do genetics play a role?

There are the “Light” beings (a.k.a lights) and the “Dark” beings (a.k.a shades.) But there are also halfbreeds, which are always half-Dark, half-Light. A halfbreed’s child will only have powers if that halfbreed’s partner is a fullbreed Dark or Light. On top of this, the way a halfbreed is brought up (in the Dark or in the Light) is unique to each halfbreed, but the Light does not name their halfbreeds.

Although the Dark encourages their members to find their romantic partner as a shade first, some go against this rule and find their romantic partners as humans. This obviously can cause a lot of problems. Obviously. But these are the very basic fundamentals of how things work: The Dark and the Light have dominant genes over human genes unless their genes mix together. If they mix, the “power” gene then becomes recessive to human traits.

One dark + one dark = dark

One human + one dark = dark

One dark + one light = halfbreed

One halfbreed + human = human

One halfbreed + dark = dark  

Unions between the Light and the Dark are definitely frowned upon, and how couples find each other is explained in Seconds Before Sunrise. There used to be rearranged marriages, but that changed two generations back, which caused the bloodline to come back (hence Eric’s birth.) This is also something I will show in a possible prequel. Now, most members meet loved ones in the shelter before later meeting their human sides. As of now in the trilogy, it is unknown to the protagonists if anyone has had a happy Light and Dark union.

Worlds inside a World

The Shelter vs. The Light Realm

fbe2dacc94e4a7696471958a9936c578The Dark members have the shelter. This is – quite literally – a shelter, and it is almost all underground. As readers know, Eric’s mother killed herself when Eric was five years old. She killed herself in the main forest in Hayworth. Because of this, Eric’s father buys the park, and he closes it off to everyone else (although Crystal, Robb, and Jessica trespass in the beginning of Seconds Before Sunrise.) The dense forest opens up in a few places, but the forest has a cave, and this is where the original shelter was created. I would explain how it is hidden from humans but that is discussed in Death Before Daylight. As Eric says in Minutes Before Sunset, “At first, the shelter was made up of two offices, a nursing room, and one training room. Since then, it had grown remarkably, and I couldn’t even guess where it ended.”

The Light has the Light realm. Yes. A realm – a place that humans can never go. Quite unfair, isn’t it? Unfortunately, I cannot explain this one at all. Not yet. But I will say this: all of your questions about where lights and shades and prophecies come from are answered in Death Before Daylight, and the secrets reside in the realm. If you haven’t read the trilogy yet, you do see this realm in Seconds Before Sunrise. And, yes, I’m terribly sorry for all of the readers who have wanted and begged for so many more details on the creatures in book 1 and 2. When you read book 3, you will understand why I couldn’t explain everything. I know. I know. Waiting is awful. (But it will be worth it. Promise.)

So what’s the key to world-building? 

Believe in it and have fun! Create the world your characters deserve, share the world with your readers, and keep at it. World-building can take enormous amounts of time and energy, but enjoying the exploration can be one of the best parts of writing it. I, for one, cannot WAIT to share more information about the world in The Timely Death Trilogy, especially considering how many answers are about to be revealed.

Dun. Dun. Dun.

~SAT

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