I just received an endorsement from Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms® and dozens of other imaginary worlds:
Worldbuilding—creating a fictional setting—is THE biggest job of a storyteller. It can be done badly or minimally, but doing so risks robbing a tale of richness and impact, by leaving the audience uncaring or making “the stakes” less clear or dramatic.
So, after “once upon a time,” where to begin this devastatingly big job? With CREATING LIFE by Randy Ellefson, even the first volume of which is THOROUGH. This book raises ALL the points, and asks all the questions. Not just recommended: essential!
This is super cool! I consider Ed to be one of the Four Horsemen of World Building, along with Tolkien, Gary Gygax (“The father of role-playing games”), and Dave Anerson (co-inventor of Dungeons & Dragons with Gygax). Sadly, Ed is the only one still alive.
I started recording The Art of World Building Podcast this month. I’ll be covering much of what’s in the three volumes but not everything (sometimes more, sometimes less). In addition to learning more about world building, you’ll have the chance to hear my lovely speaking voice. A transcript of each episode will also be available on the official site (note this one).
Most podcasters need to find royalty free music to use for opening and closing credits or other announcements, but not me. I’m just using my own!
The podcast will launch in July 2017 once I have a few episodes ready for release on day one. After that, the schedule will be every other week, usually Tuesday mornings.
4 Unconventional Tools to Fix Common Creative Writing Problems
by Guest Blogger Ethan Miller
Once upon a time, there lived a writer who churned bestsellers after bestsellers without breaking a sweat. Words flowed out of him with such ridiculous ease that he was rumored to be unaware of the phrase ‘writer’s block’. And his name was……..
While most of you are busy guessing who this mystery writer is, let me tell you that the aforementioned lines are the start of my fantasy fiction book on writers (if I ever write one). The reason I call it fantasy fiction is because every established as well as aspiring writer knows that writing is not a piece of cake. One has to face lots of hardships, phases of self doubt, fear of failure and the proverbial ‘writer’s block’ to write a few pages, let alone a complete novel.
Though there are problems aplenty that plague an author’s mind, most writers have to deal with similar hurdles, and luckily, there are ways to cross these hurdles. Today, I am going to address 4 common problems of creative writing that cripple a writer’s mind and how they can be resolved by using unconventional tools. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this piece as just another run of the mill article on writing advice, check out how writer’s can find solutions to their troubles in most unexpected ways:
Problem 1: The idea well has dried up
Solution: Mind mapping – a Pandora’s box of ideas
Generally, a writer’s block can be classified into two types: one where you are unable to write what you are thinking and the other where you are stuck in a story with no idea of how to proceed further. If you are suffering from the latter case of writer’s block, then mind mapping might be the tool that could save you and your story.
Many times, a writer starts to write when he or she gets an exciting idea, but soon hits a roadblock when the idea well dries up. Every time I get stuck in my story, I use the technique of mind mapping, which is basically just allowing your mind to run wild with imagination.
For those who are unaware of mind mapping, it is an ideation technique where people start with the central idea and explore all its possibilities in the form of pictures, images, numbers, etc. All you need is a paper, a set of different colored pens and an open mind that will help you explore your central idea and connect it with other sub ideas through logical flow of thoughts. In short, mind mapping sparks creativity in the mind that is struck by a drought of ideas.
This is just a very basic example of mind mapping that I have used to show how one can explore different genres and plots through a one line central idea.
Problem 2: Character depth is superficial
Solution: Flashcards – get your characters’ traits and backstories on finger tips
Imagine this. After hours of doodling and brainstorming, a writer hits the keyboard as soon as he finds an exciting idea to write about. With hours of hard work over the next few days, the pages of his unfinished novel start to fill, but he finds that something is not quite right. After pondering over it, he concludes that his characters lack depth and their traits seem to overlap with one another. Every fiction writer has gone through this phase where they are dissatisfied with their one dimensional characters who are hampering the effect of storytelling.
I was recently re-introduced to the magic of flashcards. During my schooling years, I relied heavily on flashcards to memorize math formulas and develop my vocabulary. I have found flashcards to be extremely useful in developing living, breathing characters. Before I start the writing process, I assign a flashcard for each of my primary characters and make a note of their respective traits / backstories on other sides of flashcards. It helps me get under the skin of the character and understand the emotions behind the motives that drive their actions. There are many websites that can help you with creating flashcards. To give you an idea about how flashcards will work for characterization, here’s a screenshot of a flashcard that I created from Cram.com:
Image Courtesy: Cram
Problem 3: Can’t put your thoughts into words
Solution: Thought Journal – a platform that lifts the pressure off your writing
As writers, we all strive for perfection. We want our writing to be on par with the best in the business. But, there are times when words fail us and no matter how much we try, those perfect words that create literary magic evade us. I have seen writers struggling to express their thoughts in words and I have experienced it first hand as well. When I thought about it, I felt that it is the pressure to deliver our best that hampers our efforts to put pen on paper. One simple way that I devised to lift the pressure off my writing is to start a thought journal. There are plenty of online spaces like Journalate.com where you can go and pour your thoughts in the form of words without the pressure of giving your best. Once you have written what you had in mind, you can always chop and change later, and create literary magic through a web of words. And the best thing about these online journals is that they keep your entries secret i.e. no one can view it other than you.
Problem 4: Bitten by the procrastination bug
Solution: NaNoWriMo – Sometimes deadlines can inspire great work
I have wanted to write this piece for way too long, but have been putting it off for a while now. I love writing and would be more than happy to share my techniques of overcoming writing trouble. Then what was stopping me? Ah yes! The curse of procrastination.
Nothing affects a writer’s work more than the procrastination bug. And one way to stop procrastinating is setting a deadline. It was only after I set a deadline of writing this article within this week that I was able to get on with my writing.
One of my friends introduced me to this great platform called NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month), which is a perfect cure for procrastination. By setting a deadline of one month to write a novel from scratch, NaNoWriMo inspires thousands of writers from across the world to shed procrastination and turn their ideas into books. One can form their own writing circle and inspire one another to write their book in a month. NaNoWriMo spreads the flow of infectious creative energy that is hard for any serious writer to discard.
There are many more ways to resolve the writing problems listed above, but trying something new can be fun and exciting. So I request all the fellow writers to try a few of these tools, if not all, and let me know it they worked for you too. Let’s beat the demons that keep us from writing our masterpiece, fulfill our destinies and have fun while we are at it!
Ethan Miller is an online ESL tutor. Apart from his passion for teaching, he loves to write and is currently working on his first book. When he is not teaching or working on his book, Miller loves to blog and is a huge fan of educational technology. You can follow Miller on Twitter and check out his blog.
Today, author John Robin was kind enough to publish a guest post of mine about species and races in world building. You can read it here.
The article is drawn from Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), which Amazon has listed as a hot new release in its category, currently at #4 (down one spot from yesterday).
Creating Life has been published in both eBook and paperback format! Join The Art of World Building mailing list to get the free templates! Chapter summaries are below.
Chapter 1—Why Build a World?
While world building is expected in many genres of fantasy and SF, we must decide how many worlds to build. This will depend on our career plans and goals. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of building one world per story vs. one world for many stories, and when to take each approach. Sometimes doing both is best, allowing for greater depth in one world but the option to step away to keep things fresh. Using analogues can help us create believable societies quickly but has pitfalls that can be avoided. Do you have the ability to create many interesting worlds, and will they have enough depth to make the effort worth it?
Chapter 2—Creating Gods
Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.
Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.
Chapter 3—Creating a Species
Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.
Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.
An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.
Chapter 4—Creating World Figures
Villains, heroes, and more give our characters admired or despised individuals who’ve shaped the world and inspired them. Using Earth analogues can speed the invention of such world figures, though it’s best to change some details to obfuscate the similarities. Living figures can provide ongoing usefulness but the deceased can cast a long shadow, too. Their possessions can be just as famous and offer opportunities for our characters to find something helpful or dangerous. Family, friends, and enemies also provide ongoing possibilities for their life to impact our current characters.
Chapter 5—Creating Monsters
The difference between monsters, species, and animals is largely sophistication and numbers. Many monsters are created by accidents that turn an existing species or animal into something else, but sometimes monsters are created on purpose. In the latter case it’s especially important to decide who caused this. A monster’s habitat has an impact on its usefulness and sets the stage for creating atmosphere and characterization that will largely define our audience’s experience with it before the terrifying reveal. Its motivation in life, or in our work, also determines what it does and the sort of trouble it’s causing for our species.
Chapter 6—Creating Plants and Animals
In fantasy, creating plants and animals is optional due to expectations that the world is very Earth-like, but in SF that takes place away from Earth, audiences are more likely to expect new ones. It takes less time to create these than other life in this book, but we’ll want to consider our time investment, how often our setting will be used, whether our creations impact our work and the impression it creates, and whether the desire to do something unique and new is worthwhile for both us and our audience.
Plants and animals are classified into categories, such as cycads, conifers, and flowering plants, and amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. The lifecycle of the former and the behavior of the latter help distinguish them and can be used to propel or inhibit stories involving them. While we may have purposes for them as an author, our world’s inhabitants have them, too, such as decoration and medicinal uses for plants, and domestication, sports, guards, pets and transportation for animals. Both can be used for food and materials to enrich life and our world.
Chapter 7—Creating Undead
Many types of undead already exist and are public domain, and it’s challenging to invent something new. Undead are often classified by appearance and behavior, but it is also their origins and how they can be destroyed that will help distinguish our undead from pre-existing types. The two basic ones are those with a body, like zombies, and those without, like ghosts. Those with a body might have a soul or not. We can decide on the mental faculties of our undead by deciding if the mind goes with the soul, but there are other factors that can impair the minds and even emotional states of undead. All of these affect behavior, as do their origins, goals, and what they’re capable of.
On the eve of publishing Creating Life, I just received a great endorsement from bestselling author Piers Anthony! Impeccable timing.
“I read Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1), by Randy Ellefson…It is exhaustive, well written, and knowledgeable…I, as a successful science fiction and fantasy writer, have generated many worlds, so this material is familiar, but it would have been easier and probably better had I had a reference like this. It is realistic, recognizing that the average writer may not have the patience to work out all the details before getting into the action…”
Creating Life can now be pre-ordered at Amazon! Other retailers will follow soon. The official release date is May 2, 2017. Newsletter subscribers (for The Art of World Building) will receive the free templates in April ahead of the release.
Creating Life (The Art of World Building, #1) has been written and is now being edited by JJ Henke, who’s worked with me for years on various projects. I should have it back in about two weeks. Then it will take another couple of weeks to go through all the suggested changes and format it for release.
In theory I could publish it in about a month, but to do things right, I need more time. I’m hoping to get some endorsements to help with promotion. I also must line up more of what I intend with ads, blog tours, and the like.
In the meantime, I’m hard at work on Creating Places (Volume 2) and making great progress.