To Build A Story: World-Building

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. So here it is!

For a long time, I never really considered world-building when I wrote. I focused on plot and characters, and the world was just kind of a backdrop. I think a lot of writers overlook world-building, or don’t give it enough attention in their writing. I wrote this post about the importance of world-building, and some things that great books do to bring their worlds to life. You should definitely go read it if you haven’t already, because I take a deeper look into what makes a good, realistic, deep world. Now I wanted to give you some of the resources I’ve found to be helpful as I develop the world for Nightfire. 

This is the first WIP that I’ve really spent time developing the world, and it’s shown me a whole new side to writing. I really love the process. Even if half of this never makes it into the actual book, it has helped me understand the characters and story so much more, and made it all feel real.

1. Name Generator

One thing I am terrible at is names–you may have noticed from the multiple posts asking for your help choosing names. There are many different generators, but this is a great one that I’ve used for Nightfire. I like to use generators when I need variety, or for non-English names. I don’t usually use the exact names they produce, but it’s a great starting point.

2. Character Generator

Now I know this isn’t exactly world-building, but this is another great resource, especially for those side characters that help flesh the world out (which I wrote about in the previous post mentioned above). Seventh Sanctum has a whole bunch of great generators, like this one for characters, or a couple others for settings and combat.

3. Map Generator

Similar to the name generator, this map generator is a great starting point. I never realized before how helpful it is to actually have a concrete mental image of how the world is laid out. It makes logistics so much easier, and the action feel more real. Instead of them journeying from point A to point B, they are travelling from Cinder Lake to the Anvil Mountains. I could never come up with all the landforms and names on my own, so the generator really helped me get started.

4. Map Making Software

This is a little bit more technical, but don’t let that scare you off. AutoREALM is very easy to use (It took me less than an hour to figure out the basics on my own) and is amazing. Seriously, amazing. Creating a real map to have as a reference has been so helpful, and even inspired different storylines and aspects in the book. Not to mention they turn out pretty awesome looking, for such a simple software. Here’s mine for Nightfire (which I did in three hours, including the learning curve):

realmap

Pretty awesome, right? Not bad for a couple hours and limited technical skills.

How do you world-build? Any resources of your own to share? What do you think of these–did they help at all? Let me know!

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The Voices in My Head

Character is what drives the story. Not fantastic world-building, creativity, or exciting plot. A book can have the most beautiful, unique world, with a great concept and cinematic plot–but it is nothing, without character.

What books do you remember most? Which are the ones that stick with you?

Maybe it’s the one that kept you on the edge of your seat. But more often, it’s the book with the voice that stuck in your head, and wouldn’t go away. It’s the one with a person you lived inside, for the hours or days it took you to read that book, and forgot who you were. You felt them. You became them.

As a reader, I love that. Isn’t that one of the biggest draws of books, stories? That we can escape into this world of ink and paper, and forget who we are, and let our world, our reality, fall away?

As writers, how do we create that?

I’ve been writing stories my entire life–meaningless stories. Stories where the plot drove the characters, not the other way around. A few years ago, I finally recognized this, and set out to create the perfect character.

I did my research, I read the articles and the books, I did the character sheets, and inspirations, and trait lists. I could tell you about the tattoo on their ankle, what their middle name was (and whether they hated it), and which side of the bed they slept on. I came up with quirks and flaws and strengths.

And what did I have? Paper.

I had filled them full of things meant to make them feel real, but they still felt flat, hollow. They were real, but they weren’t alive. Characters are not devices, or plot points, or vessels for your wit. Characters are people.

I am not discouraging anyone from studying the craft, and doing character exercises. They were critical in starting to learn who my characters were. It got me to stop thinking about them as characters, and start thinking of them as people. That, I think, is when they started to take shape on their own.

I stopped worrying about adjectives and quirks and fears. I stopped seeing them as words, and started seeing them as people. I don’t know when exactly it happened, but something shifted. First, it was Falcon. I could see her reacting, to every situation I was faced with. I could feel how she would, what she would think, what she would do, right in that moment. Sometimes she even reacted to me. All of the sudden, it was like there was this person inside my head.

I know, that sounds absolutely crazy. Like, I should be checking myself into a mental hospital crazy.

But I’m completely serious. That was the moment she became real, and my story came alive. She was the first of many voices (some of which you’ve seen glimpses of, in snippets or yesterday’s character hop). They peeled themselves up off the page and started talking and walking, and erasing things and rewriting their own story. Sometimes, when I’m writing, it’s like my hands are not my own. I can go in with one intention, and end up with something completely different.

I’m discovering this all over again while writing Nightfire. I started with literal, flat concepts of characters–a wild, fur-wearing girl with beads in her hair, a monstrous bear-wolf hybrid with humanly amber eyes, a skilled hunter with a shaved head and criss-crossed swords at his back. I started with the concepts, and as I wrote, they started to emerge. The hunter boy wasn’t cold and calculated–he was skilled, but also surprisingly soft, and loved to talk whether anyone listened or not. And though they’re still not entirely whole, I’m discovering more of them everyday. It’s kind of exciting, like getting to know a new friend, or even falling in love, bit by bit.

Maybe I’m taking this too literally. But it frustrates and even saddens me when I see so many writers in the blog-o-sphere so caught up in technique and development and word count, that they forget the story. Not the plot, the story. The one our characters are screaming at us, we’re just too blinded by ourselves to listen. I’m not trying to preach this, or say that my method is better, or anything. Maybe it’s not, for you. Maybe you haven’t really tried.

I realize there’s no way to guarantee this will happen. There’s no magic spell or incantation or rain dance to make them come alive (what do you think I am, crazy?) Don’t be worried if it doesn’t happen. It didn’t happen for me, for years–most of the time that I’ve been writing. But we have to stop being so caught up in ourselves, that we don’t see our characters right in front of us. We have to stop worrying about how to make them unique or interesting or whether they would really do that, and just let go. You have to give them room to grow.

Even when I set out to create the perfect character, I didn’t realize they were already there, in my own writing. I just had to get to know them. Spend time with them, feel them, laugh and cry and talk with them. The same way you get to know a person, sit down and get to know your characters. Because they really are people, just made of ink and paper instead of flesh and blood.

Make friends with the voices in your head. You’ll thank me, I promise. 😉

 

 

 

TBAS: Title Reveal

There is so much that goes into choosing a title–as I found out this week. As a reader, the title is what draws you to pick up a book in the first place. As a writer, that’s a terrifying thought. What if we choose the wrong one, and the reader never picks our heart up off the shelf?

There a dozen different techniques and strategies and advice for picking a title. (K.M. Weiland has a great post on it here) But honestly, there’s not a science to it. As with almost everything I do related to writing, I follow my gut. If I don’t feel it, it’s not happening. So when I didn’t get that feeling for any title, I was kind of freaking out.

Solution? Put my ideas into a poll, and take it to a vote 🙂

Thanks so much to everyone who participated and helped me to choose a title! I really do value your feedback and input, and the few outside suggestions I received. The final vote count was “Shadow and Ash” with 6 votes, “Nightfire” with 5, “Shadow Mark” with 4, and “Fire and Shadow” with 1.

Let me start with the ones I didn’t choose, and why. Fire and Shadow was already a maybe, and with such a low vote count, I threw it out. Next, I toyed with Shadow Mark for a long time,  or even Shadowmark as one word. I liked the strength of it, but something about it was off, it was too long, and I couldn’t get it to look good font/cover wise. Finally, the winner, Shadow and Ash. I was surprised this one won, really. I hadn’t really considered it seriously before, but put it in as an option. Ultimately, though it won, and it is catchy, I decided it was too similar to the already popular book Shadow and Bone, and not unique enough.

So, you guessed it: the new title for my WIP is…NIGHTFIRE

Now, this may change by the end, but I like how unique it is. It is different,  and I think it catches your attention. I also love one word titles, and think it packs a punch. As I played around more with each title, I just kept being drawn back to this one, and as I said, I go with my gut. No, it didn’t win the vote, but it was pretty close 😉

Since I’m a nerd and wanted to see how the titles might look on covers (to help me choose) here is my very basic mock cover for NIGHTFIRE:

Image

 

Now I’m curious to know, how did y’all choose your titles? Was it relatively easy (as most of mine have been) or difficult, as this one has been? Was your original title completely different than your final? Do you have any advice for others who are choosing titles now?

Let me know what you think 🙂

 

To Build A Story

Some of y’all know I’ve been working on a brand new, untitled WIP. Obviously, it is in the very early stages still, but I am loving how it coming along so far. Though I started this blog to share the highs and lows of my journey towards publishing, I thought it would also be nice to share this latest journey, writing a brand new manuscript, from step one. All posts will be under To Build A Story, and I will try to keep consistent updates of where I’m at in the process, what my struggles are, and what I’ve accomplished (You’ll also notice a word count meter tracking my progress in the sidebar).

I hope to be able to share this with those of you embarking on this crazy ride with me 🙂

To start, let me introduce the WIP (though, it will probably be rewritten a dozen times before I’m finished, ha) As of now, it is a YA fantasy set in a somewhat post-apocalyptic world ravaged by shapeshifting monsters called Shadows. Kera is a 16 year old who survives (with her mom and 10 year old sister, Hana) in the harsh northern forests of the wilds. She has lived her whole life believing humans (who live in the distant safehouses) are more dangerous than the Shadows. While scouting for a new den, Kera and her mother encounter human hunters, and are attacked by Shadows. When her mother is ripped, leaving her a mindless shell, and Kera is touched by the Shadow–leaving her with fragmented visions–she must choose whether to face winter alone in the wilds, or turn to the human hunters for help. It is a raw world of survival, mystery, and magic.

So far, I’m really loving the world and the voices in this. It’s very moody and haunting, but also stark and raw. For a long time, I had a lot of scattered ideas about this project, but no clear connection. After a long session with my CP Stephanie, I’ve managed to get the puzzle pieces together, and have finished a bare bones outline. I am 11,500 words in, and so far they’ve been coming easily, though I don’t want to jinx it 🙂

My next big issue to tackle: the title.

I am open to any suggestions. I have considered some things, but nothing has really stuck. Some words I am playing around with include: shadow, bone, ashes, ice, static, mark, chosen.

Look forward to hearing some brilliant ideas! (seriously, I need it)