May 212015
 

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been rejected, just that opening material, but lately I’ve done some research that turns up some interesting info about this that I thought to share.

Imbalance of Power

To submit a novel, it must be completely written and edited. This can take a year, easy, depending on you and your life. And yet an agent will reject a book in 5-10 seconds, based on the opening paragraph and even first sentence. Or less, if they decide they’re tired of lead characters described as an “average girl,” for example, and your query says this. It’s hardly “fair.” A year of blood, sweat, and tears, and they give 10 seconds. That’s an imbalance of power.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Mindset

I’ve recently listened to over a dozen webinars from agents and published authors, even publishers, all admitting ruefully/reluctantly, that they do indeed look for a reason to reject you. Why? Just to get through their “slush pile.”

And it’s no wonder. One agent said many agents receive between 15,000-30,000 queries a year! That’s 40-80 a day. I guess if they give most of us 1 minute, they can be done in an hour. That mindset is basically negative. And I think it’s the opposite of how the rest of the world thinks when picking up a book. They’re optimistic, looking to give something a chance.

Agents are overexposed through sheer volume and I think it’s understandable that they draw a hard line, but is that good for anyone, including them?

The time it takes to craft a good query and summary, which are only for them, is significant, and I personally don’t like spending that time given this mindset.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Truly Exceptional

Agents say that your book can’t be just good, or even great, but must be “truly exceptional,” or something similar, to even get read, agented, or sold to publisher. Well, what does that mean?

And if a regular reader starts evaluating a book in a store or on Amazon and thinks it’s great, do they actually say to themselves, “Well, this is great, but I was looking for truly exceptional, so I’m not buying this!”

Agents readily admit that books that go on to be bestsellers are rejected all the time. Maybe this has something to do with how apt they are to reject one?

One agent said it’s well known in the traditional publishing industry that 7% of books account for something like 87% of sales, which means the vast majority of those books (93%) don’t sell – when agents and publishers, but not readers, thought they were “truly exceptional.” What does it mean when the agents and publishers are basically wrong 93% of the time? Is there a correlation between their mindset when reading queries (how little time they give one, for example) and this result? I wish I had a job where I got it wrong that often and still got paid.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

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Rejections

No one likes a rejection, or even no response at all, but what bothers me most about this is that you never know why (out of my hundreds, I literally have one reason given to me). The ignorance causes second guessing. Was it the query? The summary? Opening chapter? And which part of all of this? Main character not compelling enough, fast enough? Didn’t like an opening sentence? Premise no good? Hook not hooky enough? You were in a bad mood? It was Tuesday?

What if the query and summary were “truly exceptional” but something about the opening pages wasn’t, and, not knowing this, I leave the pages alone but change the query or summary – for the worse? Counterproductive, to say the least.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Loss of Rights

There’s always been a risk with traditional publishers that you lose all sorts of rights, including choosing your title, cover, and even having major rewrites forced on you. In the past, authors gave this up partly because they had no choice, but this isn’t true today when self-publishing is an option.

Another risk is that your book is summarily dropped, possibly within a month of publication, if it doesn’t perform well. So much effort by the author can result in very little support from a publisher. On the other hand, a self-published book is out there as long as you want it to be. And you control everything.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

The Burden of Proof, er, Promotion

A major reason to go with a traditional publisher is the marketing they’ll do for you, when this is a field they know all about and you probably don’t. Well, publishers increasingly expect authors to do most if not all of that themselves. This eliminates much of their appeal. Self-promotion is something all authors must/should do anyway, but I always thought I’d be supplementing their efforts, not replacing them.

If I’m to go it alone, I’d rather know that in advance and step up my efforts, having that in my plan for self-publishing.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

The Shrinking Advances

Another reason to go with a traditional publisher is that much-desired advance, but from what I’ve read these are so small nowadays as to be no enticement, really, especially if you have a decent day job. Sure, some get lucky, but the odds aren’t in anyone’s favor. An advance isn’t likely to change anything significant and this is no longer a draw of publishers, if it ever was.

– 1 for agents and publishers.

Epilogue

It increasingly seems like traditional publishers and agents aren’t offering much that authors can’t do themselves and without fruitless effort, losing rights, or taking risks. I was initially surprised by some what I’ve learned this year and wrote about here, but their positions make sense for them.

But not for some authors.

Even as the lure of traditional publishers fades, self-publishing continues to lose its stigma and be a more attractive option. We don’t have to spend precious time on queries and the whole agent business, and I find it more rewarding to research my industry instead, becoming more able to proactively manage my burgeoning career. The freedom to do what I want – and when – is a grand thing. And I now have the luxury of knowing for certain that every book I write will get published, get full support from my publisher (me), and be around forever!

+ a billion for me

If you have tips or comments, feel free to add them below or email me.

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

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 […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

17 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

2 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
May 012015
 

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues:

  1. Not knowing what you want to write; i.e., you don’t have an idea (“idea block”)
  2. Knowing what you want to write but being unable to (an actual “writing block”)

Writer’s block and idea block have different solutions and causes.

Idea Block

Sometimes “writer’s block” is really an issue of having nothing to say, not that you can’t find the words to say it.  What appears to be a writing issue is an idea one.  If you don’t have an idea, you have nothing to articulate, which is why you may find words hard to come by.

If you don’t have an idea, I recommend not sitting down in front of a blank screen, which many find intimidating.  It’s arguably better to brainstorm and let your mind wander, and if the blank screen inhibits that, walk away.  If you’re okay with the blank screen, then having a file of story ideas or notes – as opposed to the momentous manuscript file – takes the pressure off and lets you write stuff that doesn’t have to work, or where the actual writing is irrelevant because it won’t appear in the story.

Other times, we have some ideas but just not enough of them, or they aren’t thought out enough and we don’t realize it until trying to articulate them.  Again what appears to be a problem with words is really an idea issue.

Sometimes we’re indecisive about what should happen in the story, from whether to include or mention something like back story, or whether a character will/would do something or not.  Other times, we have several ideas for what should happen and can’t decide which one to pursue.  These are characterization, story structure, or plotting issues.  If you can’t decide, you can’t write it.  Recognize that these are the real issues and make a decision about what should happen and why.

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Writing Block

To me, real writer’s block is when you know what you want to say but are struggling with the actual words to do it. No matter how you try, phrases don’t seem to work together, everything is awkward, or the lines you write just don’t inspire you.

Not being in the mood can cause it, as can fussing over wording too much and wanting to get it perfect the first time.  Common wisdom suggests just blurting it out and getting it “on paper”, then improving the writing later.

Grammar can actually be a cause, too, if your sentences are not really fitting together or you are using misplaced modifiers, for example.  It pays to be a student of English and have this aspect of writing firmly under control so you can focus on what your words convey.

If you know how something (a person, or room) in your story looks but can’t decide how to write it, or even if you should include it now, that’s also writer’s block.  One solution is experience, whether gained via writing or learning more about the craft of storytelling.  For example, most consider it a mistake to start your story with description.  If you understand why and why not, you can make faster decisions and not get stuck, or “blocked” by indecision.

Sometimes you really just don’t “have it” and need to come back later.  For this, I sometimes practice writing opening sentences to stories or scenes in my head, where they are easily discarded.

Epilogue

Understanding the difference between idea block and writer’s block can help you overcome whichever one is causing your lack of progress. Sometimes people beat themselves up over writer’s block, telling themselves they aren’t a good writer, when that isn’t even the issue, so be nice to yourself and just figure out what the problem really is, then solve it.

Happy writing!

Author’s Shouldn’t Try to Be Funny in Their Bios

There’s a lot of advice on how to write a professional author bio, and here’s mine: don’t try to be funny or clever.  It seldom works.  It can also make you look juvenile, narcissistic, and unprofessional.  Here are some examples of bad lines extracted from actual bios (names withheld very much on purpose). Please note that I […]

0 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

4 comments

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

0 comments

Getting My Book In Book Stores

When I decided to start self-publishing, people began asking me if I can get my book in stores, to which I’ve said no, not really. They almost always ask in amazement, “Don’t you want to see your novel in book stores?”  I usually shrug and say no and ask why they think it’s so important, […]

11 comments

Guest Post: Unconventional Writing Tools

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 […]

0 comments

How Agents and Publishers Think About Manuscripts

Like most authors, I’ve submitted books to agents and either gotten no response or the form rejection letter. Well, let me be specific – I’ve sent a query letter, one page summary, and anywhere from 5 pages to 3 chapters as per each agent’s instructions. I jokingly tell myself that my books have never been […]

17 comments

How to Create Fictional Characters, Part 1

Regardless of your genre, authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have much to think about when creating a character. One tool to help is a kind of fill-in-the-blanks template you can use for each one. I’ve developed a rather extensive one over the years and share it here. It can be overkill, so don’t feel the need […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 2

This is the second in a series on creating fictional characters.  Part 1 covered an overview. You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF. Personal Life General History Family & Upbringing This includes place of birth, parents and siblings, quality of home life, general family status (wealth, position of power, […]

0 comments

How To Create Fictional Characters, Part 3

If you’re creating a character for fantasy or another genre where they go adventuring, this part of the template may help you.  You can download the full template as a Word doc or a PDF or read Part 1 and Part 2 online As Adventurer Does he seek “adventure” or go on missions? History How […]

0 comments

The Importance of Death

I watch a lot of SciFi (and when available, fantasy) on TV and in movies.  All too often, death means nothing.  A major character can be killed off and I just shrug, knowing they’ll be back, sometimes before the episode is over.  Then they show another character mourning this and I just wonder why.  Like […]

2 comments

Writers Block vs. Idea Block

Most authors have “writer’s block” at some point, but I suspect we’re often suffering from something I call “idea block”.  The definition of writer’s block is “the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.”  But I think that raises two separate issues: Not knowing what you […]

2 comments
Feb 212015
 

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so.

New Ideas

If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here:

The Template

Animal/Plant Name:

Type: (animal, plant [tree/flower], bird, fish)

Description:

Habitat:

Uses: (products, forbidden uses)

Earth equivalent: (is this based on something from Earth?)

Example

Item Name: Big Cat Name Here

Type: animal, mammal, feline

Description: this big cat has four legs and a long tail.  They are up to ten feet long including tail and 700 pounds. They do not have a mane and are often darkly colored with lighter spots.  Males are larger than females.  Both live 30 years.  They are loyal to their owner once bonded.

Habitat: they are found in all kinds of forests and mountain ranges and often hunt in open plains and grasslands.  They eat horses, animal 1, and animal 2.  Humanoid species are also prey items, but not if armed.

Uses: they can be used as personal guards and trained in battle to assist their owner or as a group like cavalry.  They will wear armor and can be trained to attack and defend armed opponents. They are sometimes pets, but rarely.

Earth equivalent: this is a large tiger, but it is like dogs for trainability and wolves in that they are pack animals.

Getting Ideas
Start with Earth
The bright leaves of the venus flytrap (Dionae...

The bright leaves of the venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) attract insects in the same way as flowers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you need ideas, start with Earth animals or plants and begin modifying them.  I suggest several modifications for each one you create.  A horse with only six legs to make it different isn’t that interesting.

Some items to change are coloring, number of appendages, whether an animal is trainable or not, and how the animal can be used by your humans and species (if at all).  You can simply reverse some of these things, like making cats who obey like dogs.  In fact, many Earth things are different than you might expect.  For example, in America we’re used to only seeing red tomatoes.  You could create yellow ones, thinking you’re being different, when in reality yellow tomatoes already exist here.  This is where research can help.

Research

Google any plant or animal that you want to start with and read about it, making a list of interesting attributes or things you could mention when writing.  It becomes interesting if you say a character sees an animal name you made up and describe it like this: “A large, four-legged, tame herbivore with huge tusks, they mostly graze or eat leaves and other plants.  Their tusks are prized.  They can be tamed and are often used as pack animals, either carrying the load or pulling it.”  On the other hand, if you call it an elephant, it’s boring.

That’s mostly stock information, but it becomes interesting when you change details.

Create a List

There are so many things you could create that having a list helps, particularly if you’re starting with Earth animals and plants.  Then research each for the details and start altering them to create your plant or animal.  For example:

Mammals: boar, deer, bear, cow, goat

Fish: shark, whale, stingray, plain old fish, flying fish, dolphins

Lizards: snake

Birds: vulture, pigeon, falcon

Flowers: rose, night shade, lilies

Trees: oak, weeping willow, pine, maple

Vegetables: corn, tomato, potato

Other Plants: wheat, rice

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Products

These plants and animals will result in products made from them.  Goats are used for cheese, for example.  Potatoes make chips and fries.  Wheat makes beer and bread.  Grapes make wine.  Trees are turned into all sorts of products and have typical uses depending on the tree.  Research an oak tree and how it’s used (and why), and then give it some different properties and similar uses and you can write something like, “He poured tree-name syrup on his wheat-name pancakes.”

Epilogue

Creating new animals and plants can give your fantasy world and stories a uniqueness that keeps readers coming back for more – if you do a good job!  It can be fun and easier than you might expect, but beware of spending so much time doing it that you stop writing.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

My Guest Post

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 […]

0 comments

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, or a smarter lion.  You call the first a horse, the second a tomato, and the third a lion, but people will forget you altered it in some way unless you keep reminding them, which is unnecessary exposition and feels like housekeeping (for you and the reader).

Direhorse Avatar Six LegsIf you have to keep calling it a “six-legged horse”, that encumbrance isn’t much better.  If you don’t call it a horse, but describe it in such a way that people think, “Oh, it’s just a horse with two more legs”, is that really an improvement?

More importantly, unless the alteration matters in some way, why do it at all?

For these reasons, I resisted for many years, but then I changed my mind.  Below are some considerations that could help you make a decision for your fantasy setting.

Creating a Different Feel

If you create a variety of animals and plants, each with its own name (you can read more about creating names here), they can give your world a different feel.  By contrast, many fantasy books seem to take place in medieval or Renaissance England, for example, but with elves, dwarves, and dragons thrown in, plus an odd creature or two, usually fairly standardized, too, like a hydra, ettin , or giant something-or-other.

This is good for giving the reader the sense of comfort that familiarity brings.  It keeps them focused on your story.  But maybe you (and they) want something a little different.

How Often You’ll Use The Setting

If you’ll only write one book in this fantasy world, is the extra work worth it?  It takes time and you’ll only have so many opportunities to describe things.  If you’ll be writing many books there, it becomes more attractive as an investment that pays off for longer.  An excellent example is the Gor Series by John Norman.  At last check he had over 25 books on Gor, an extensively developed planet.  There’s no denying that all of his effort produced a very unique world.

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Time

It takes time you may not have to create unique plants and animals.  There’s no getting around this unless you invent things during writing.  Doing so is fine, but one thing to watch out for is creating items that lack depth because you haven’t thought them through or done some research.  You can make a note to yourself to come back to that later and touch it up if necessary, giving you the option to invent on the fly as needed and fix any conceptual details during editing.

If you want your creations to be inter-related, such as your animal eats your plant or they fight each other, it may help to create ahead of time.

Also, inventing at the time predisposes your creations to “window dressing”, meaning they are sprucing up your setting and story but are probably not integral to it.  This is fine but limits such work and might make you decide it isn’t worth it.

Do Your Creations Matter?

They might matter to you, but do they matter to your readers?  More importantly, do they matter to the story or world?  Some people love lots of new things while others are put off by them because they can distract from a story, or the reader has to constantly remember what something is.  This is where having an artist draw something for you can really help, if you have the option to include pictures within your book.

Making them matter is one reason to create things prior to writing your story, then incorporate their unique features into that story.  This is a natural way to bring attention to what’s unique about your creations so that readers don’t mind or struggle to conceptualize.  By contrast, if it’s “window dressing”, they are likely to just ignore it.

Harry PotterSuperficial usage is not the best thing, and if done, should be kept to a minimum.  For example, in the Harry Potter movies, there are sometimes scenes that seem to serve no purpose other than showing how different the world is.  This is a waste of exposition and poor storytelling.  On the other hand, the quidditch game is part of the plot.

Using the six-legged horse as an example, it might make sense to keep the “regular” kind of horse and then add the new variety.  This allows you to specify that that those two extra legs make those horses faster or have better endurance because the work load on their legs is spread out – and maybe your characters have to go a really long distance so that this matters.  You don’t even need to explain why there are two kinds of horses because we often have such varieties here and “mother Earth” has not provided us an explanation, though scientists will invent a theory.

How Much?

How many things are you creating?  Just a few plants and animals or dozens?  Will nothing be familiar about your world except humans?  Where do you draw the line?

For example, let’s say you create lots of animals but keep the standard horses.  Do the horses then stand out as something we have here while we have nothing else from this world of yours?  Do you care?  Will your readers?  You could conceivably call nothing by its usual name because you’ve altered everything, but then your book becomes bogged down in this stuff.  Taken to extremes, your work becomes virtually incomprehensible.

My Approach

I’ve found that I seldom want to mention my plants and animals while writing, which begs the question of why do it at all?  I most often mention them when describing a meal, in which case I can easily toss off names of veggies, meat, and rice all in a row without going into huge amounts of detail.  The question is whether I’d even bother describing the meal if I wasn’t using alternatives, and the answer is likely that I wouldn’t.  However, I find two sentences to be a small “burden” on the reader that likely adds vividness to the scene.

I also mention animals and plants while my characters are traveling through the wilderness and encounter them.  Again I use a sentence or two.

Then there are the times when my animal or plant is virtually a character, such as a leech plant I have that attacks people.  Or a plant that someone must go on a quest to obtain for whatever reason.  These are the times to go into a paragraph about it.

Another great use is products the characters use or encounter.  A descriptive clause here and there adds depth and color to your setting.

One thing to avoid is mentioning things simply because they exist, unless this is kept to a minimum.  As an author the goal is always to tell a story.  If you spend the time creating lots of things, it might be good to let time pass before you write a story using them so that the temptation to write a lot about them diminishes.

Epilogue

If you’ve decided to do it, another blog provides some tips.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

My Guest Post

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 […]

0 comments

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here.

Download the PDF or Word template.

City/Town Name

General

Alliances

Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies?

Identification

Symbol and Banner:

City Colors:

Slogans:

Famous For

What comes to mind when people think of this place?

Location

What continent?  Nearby land features?  How accessible?

Setting

Terrain?  Forests, mountainous, desert, plain, sea/river port?

Relations with Other Settlements and Places

Town 1

Town 2

Elven Forest 1

Important Features in Town

Is there a distinctive land feature?  City layout?

Notable Religious or Magic Sites

Other Special Sites

Fortifications

Walls/Gates

Is there a wall around it? How many gates?  Well guarded?  Ever breached?

Castle

Where is it and what condition is it in?  Ruined or intact?  What’s it made of?  How many towers?  Mote?  Ever been destroyed?

Local Lore

Any legends or mysteries about the place?

Products

This depends on geography.  Very useful when writing stories as you can refer to wine, for example, from a certain city or region.

History

Year Founded:

What events are important in the formation of this settlement?

Wars

Battles

Outcome?  Who attacked them?  Or did they attack?

The Inhabitants

Attitude toward magic?  Gods?  Supernatural?  Races?  Strangers?

Leaders

What sort of government is there and who is currently running it?

Who’s Really in Control

Is some organization really in control of the city?

Population

The overall population count and which races live here.  How do they get along?  Are they segregated?  What are they afraid/proud of?

Humans

Race 1

Race 2

Religion

What religions are taught/tolerated/shunned here?

Armed Forces

Is there an army?  Garrison?  Just local guards?  Militia?  Knights?

The Local Guards

How many?  Well trained?  Well equipped?  Who’s in charge?

Knights

Important People

Priests

Magic-Users

Are they in town or nearby in a tower?  Is magic tolerated?  Feared?  Can wizards cast spells in public or only in secret?  Are they a rare/common sight?

Heroes

Villains

Nearby Monsters/Creatures

Good or bad?  How many of what kind?  What is the effect on the inhabitants and fortifications?

Public Places and Occasions

Religious Temples and Sites

Festivals and Holidays

Taverns and Inns

Are there any?  Curfews?  Are they friendly/hostile to strangers?

Guilds

Equipment Shops

What kinds of items are available for purchase or trade here?  Is this place famous for making anything?  Two-handed swords?  Full plate armor?  Silk tunics?  Strong ropes?

Weapons

Armor

Clothing

General Gear

Special Considerations

Supernatural Phenomenon

Unknown

Are there are any secrets about this place, whether known to a few or not?

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

My Guest Post

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 […]

0 comments

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement.

Location, Location, Location

No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing a map, you don’t have to draw the latter and might choose to focus mostly on the larger towns and cities.  Still, you should consider whether nearby places are friend or foe.  Even places farther away might be an enemy that this settlement needs to fear – or wants to attack first.  Some places will be allies, too.

Art of World Building Banner

Nearby land features (forests, mountains, etc.) might be home to hostile races or creatures.  This is one reason to draw a map first and then start deciding what your city is like and what the residents have to contend with.  Are there any important land features inside the town?  This includes magical and supernatural places, or maybe a religious site.

All of these will determine what sort of fortifications you settlement has, from a castle to walls, archery towers, moats, and gates (number, type, and location).  It also determines if the settlement expects to be attacked and has cleared land around it of forests an approaching army can hide in.  Have there been any major wars or battles involving this place?  Has the city or a castle within been destroyed and rebuilt?

The number and type of armed forces are also affected by location.  Is there only a local militia, cavalry, knights, or a garrison for an army?  Are there enough wizards to aid in a defense?  Is the average person trained in how to use a sword just in case or are they sitting duck peasants that will get wiped out pretty easily?

Water Supply

Don’t forget that there must be water for your citizens.  Your basic options are a river, lake, or well.  The latter will significantly impact how big your settlement can get (forget about a city).  You don’t need to comment on this much in your writing but avoid putting your settlement somewhere that doesn’t have water.  An ocean doesn’t count as that water can’t be consumed without making people sick.

Races and Species

Which non-humans are living in your city?  Elves, dwarves, and even dragons might be welcome and have special quarters designed for them.  Or they might be shunned.  If there’s an elven forest or dwarven mountain nearby, this will affect how often that race is seen and what the likely attitude toward them is.  People tend to be more tolerant of something seen more often, unless there’s been conflict, of course.

Are “evil” races there?  Are they known to be there or do they generally sneak around?  Is the city overrun by them and all the decent races are the ones who must skulk around?

Who Rules

Authors often overlook what type of government runs a city, but you should have some idea, whether this has any direct effect on the stories you want to tell or not (it can just be a backdrop or something you decide not to mention at all, though that’s easier to get away with if your story/characters only pass through).  Equally important is whether someone else is truly running the settlement.  You might have a city council as the nominal head but a clandestine organization is really in power, whether through bribery, intimidation, or violence.  This can add a nice level of intrigue.

Important People

Your settlement probably has people important to either it or your story.  This can be the obvious city leaders to heroes, villains, warriors, and wizards.  When creating such a character, try to think of some reason they are either from here or living here now.  Is there something about this settlement that triggered their personality or drew them here?

If someone’s a villain, maybe they want to live somewhere out of the way to work in secret.  Or maybe they want a big population to do evil experiments on with a missing person being less noticed.  If you don’t find a reason, you’ll soon realize it’s no fun creating these people at all and you’ll just skip it.  This can be fine if you’re creating many cities.  Just fill in these people later when you feel like it.

How It Is Known

Every settlement tends to be known for something, such as a product.  Do they make great wines?  Weapons?  Are their knights amazing?  The wizards?  Or is the place just run down and a haven for bad people like pirates?  The reputation can help you craft an overall viewpoint that really adds character to a settlement.

Secrets

Figuring out what secrets your settlement has can be a lot of fun.  This can include catacombs, weird supernatural phenomenon, evil organizations, races, monsters, or people no one knows are there.  You can create the secret and then have your characters be the one to discover the truth, which is all the more fun if the truth is horrible and right under everyone’s nose.

How Many Places to Create

You may need to create a variety of settlements, but the number and type will depend on your intentions.  I decided long ago to create one setting and really go into detail, intending to set most of my novels there.  As a result, I made over 50 cities and towns.  When creating such a large volume, it makes sense to create certain items in bulk.

For example, I created the major product of every settlement at once.  I did the same with banners, city colors, and symbols.  This helped ensure variety.  I did this in a spreadsheet and then just copied the info over to each city file later.  If creating many, decide which cities have the biggest populations and which ones are oldest/newest.

Remember that products will have much to do with land features nearby.  A lake town will not be building a ship-of-the-line (you wouldn’t sail such a ship on one unless the lake is huge).  A mountainous town isn’t likely to be known for its horses (there’s nowhere flat for them to run).  A city not near a forest is unlikely to export furniture due to a general lack of wood to build such excess; it will instead be a place importing it from somewhere else.  This can even be a conflict, where the only available, suitable wood is near another city laying claim to it.

Epilogue

In Part 2, I’ll provide the template I use for creating a settlement.

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

0 comments

Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

2 comments

Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

4 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

0 comments

How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

0 comments

How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

1 comment

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

My Guest Post

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 […]

0 comments

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing.

Download the PDF or Word template.

The Template

Fantasy Race/Species Name Here

Nicknames: “”

Famous For

General Description

Overall Appearance

Include voice, posture, impression, sleep and eating habits.

The Head

Eyes, brow, ears, chin, jaw, nose, lips, hair styles (and colors), tongue.  Heart-shaped, round, square.  Bearded?

The Body

Discuss height, stocky/thin, details on hands/feet, athleticism, stamina, strength, common ailments.  Can include clothing.

Special

Anything unique about them.

Gods

Which gods created them, influence them, or are worshiped by them?  How does this affect them?

Characteristics

Intelligence

Wisdom

Charisma

Strength

Constitution

Agility

Dexterity

Morale

Specific Accomplishments

Wars Won and Lost

Inventions and Discoveries

World View

Culture and Customs

Do they work every day?  Take lunch naps?  Includes marriage, death, challenges.

Society

Do they build cities?  Scavenge or farm and hunt?  Live in tribes?  Marriage?

Language

Do they have an oral or written language?  Which languages do they typically know?

Relations with Other Races

Humans

Race 1

Race 2

The Supernatural

Magic

Can they do it?  What kind, how powerful, what limits?

Habitat

Where a race lives determines many of their characteristics.

Terrain

Where do they originate from?  Land with rolling hills?  Mountains?  Plains?  Forests?  The sea?

Climate

Hot or cold?  Temperate?

Settlements (Towns/Cities)

Name important ones and develop them using my template for creating cities (check here for that blog: http://randyellefson.wordpress.com/blog-history/).

Homes

Where are they located?  In trees?  Underground?  Underwater?  How are they laid out and protected?

Styles & Materials

What are their homes made of?  Wood?  Brick?  Straw roofs?

Combat

Do they fight at all or run?  How do they fight?  With what weapons and armor?  Do they use cavalry, dragons?  Any typical battle formations?

Ecology

Mating, birth

Epilogue

This is the template I used when creating the seven original species for my main fantasy setting. Check the home page of this blog or my site for news of my first publications using them, probably in 2015. In the meantime, good luck!

Related articles

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 1

Without cities, towns, and villages, no fantasy world building project is complete.  In part 1, we’ll look at some things to consider.  Part 2 will be the template I use for creating a new settlement. Location, Location, Location No settlement stands alone.  A city has towns nearby, and towns have villages nearby.  However, when drawing […]

5 comments

Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

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Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help. KISS KISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when […]

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Fantasy Species vs. Race?

What’s the difference between “race” and “species” and when should you use what in your fantasy settings?  I’ve taken a look into this myself and made the right choice for me.  Read on for ideas on making the right choice for you. Race What’s a race?  The answer can be complicated (but interesting reading), but […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 1

In this three part series, we’ll look at creating races in fantasy books. This entry focuses on the physical considerations, while Part 2 will discuss the mental ones. Part 3 includes a downloadable template you can use. While using the standard elves, dwarves, dragons, and other usual suspects in fantasy fiction is fine, and maybe […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

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How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

One of the fun aspects of fantasy world building is drawing maps. This blog provides some ideas to keep in mind and tools to help. Some of this is kind of obvious but worth mentioning anyway. Where to Start A good working unit is the continent.  Despite the term “world building,” fantasy authors usually write […]

3 comments

How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

1 comment

My Guest Post

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 […]

0 comments

Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

3 comments
Feb 212015
 

Depending on your ability, creating names for people, places, and beings in fantasy books can either be fun or a pain.  I’ve been doing this for three decades and will provide some tricks and thoughts to help.

KISS

castleKISS doesn’t really stand for “keep it simple, stupid”, but it’s a good principle to follow when building your own world and inventing names.  Unpronounceable names or ones with a billion syllables are not great.  As a general rule, the fewer syllables, the better, because many people have trouble pronouncing even slightly unusual Earth names if they haven’t heard them before – I can’t tell you how many people first try to pronounce my last name, Ellefson, as “Ell-ef-a-sore” instead of saying it like the letters “L”, “F”, and then “son”. Sometimes they blatantly stumble, trying 2-3 times before I say it for them, at which point they’re clearly relieved and emphatically say , “Thank you!” Imagine how they’ll do with crazy fantasy names.

If people want to talk about your characters, they’ll be turned off if they can’t spell anything (when tweeting, writing in forums, or whatever) or say it (at conventions, to friends, or wherever).  If you’re trying to kill conversation about your fantasy books, being obnoxious with names is a good start.

If you want your characters  or places to be memorable, choosing a good name, not a terrible one, will help. This is also true of any invented races in fantasy.

Appearance and Sound

I always pay attention to both the appearance of the word and ease of pronunciation (granted some will get it “wrong”, but as long as they think they’ve got it, that’s good enough).   Books are not really considered a visual medium, but the look of a word matters for style.  Adding silent letters can help with this while not interfering with pronunciation.

Adding Silent Letters

Taking a simple or even known word and adding silent letters is a simple trick.  “H” is great for this.  Galen becomes Ghalen.  Add an extra “l” to create Gallen.  An extra “n” makes it Galenn.

Vowel Substitution, Addition, or Subtraction

Vowels can be changed, added, or subtracted to/from existing words.  An extra vowel gets you Gaalen, though that can change your intended pronunciation, especially if you added another “e” in a different place to get Galeen.  Maybe Gaelen is better.  Or Galan.

Swapping a “y” for an “i” is one way to give familiar words and names a more exotic look of another world.  This works with other letters, too, like “y” for “e”.  Galen becomes Galyn.

Capitalize Another Letter

You can always capitalize other letters in the words, but try to stick with a total of two.  This works better in longer words, like GaLendria.  That might work better with an apostrophe, such as Ga’Lendria.

Castle2Switching First Letters

Sometimes I take known words and change the first letter.  Woman becomes Soman.  This computer I’m working on is a Dell.  So now I have Kell, or Xell.  Stare at your keyboard while doing this.  It helps.

Add Suffixes or Prefixes

Adding a one syllable suffix to the end of a word helps add style.  Galen now becomes Galenor.  Or maybe Galenda, which is almost my neighbor’s first name, Glenda (a vowel subtraction).

A prefix could create Dagalen, though that no longer looks like a prefix, but so what?  If you used a hyphen or apostrophe, then you get Da-Galen or Da’Galen.

Breaking Known Words Up

This is a bit harder, but sometimes I look at words on products around me and steal a syllable or two, maybe change some letter while I’m at it.  As I type this, “Galen” is on a product, which is how that got chosen.  So is “solutions”, which I can turn into “Lucion”.  This often produces very good names and is the most fun to me.

Avoid Too Much Weird Stuff

Doing things that are weird can immediately create a sense of style, but if that style is annoying, that’s not helping you.  This includes too many consonant together, like Ghlnalenkm. Try to avoid too many hyphens or apostrophes, too, even if you’re creating a region where everyone’s name is like that (this makes that easier to get away with).

Foreign Languages

I’ve often created names that look like those of other languages without realizing it.  Apparently I have a thing for Scandinavian names, so I sometimes google those names and just take them or start from there.

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Be Consistent, Just Not Too Much

Be somewhat consistent with names to create a sense of realism, especially when creating places in a region, or a group of characters from the same region. If you have one – and only one – name with a hyphen, for example, it will stand out.  In a way, that’s good, but it really just seems like you haven’t thought through any sort of naming convention.  If you find yourself tempted to explain that one name to your reader, that’s a bad sign.  If you really like it, be sure to create a few more like it and mention them instead of writing something like, “His name was hyphenated like many people in his region”, which is both lame and lazy.

One way to create a region’s naming style is to choose a few things and use them quite a few times.  For example, the suffix “or” for Galenor and Ravenor, or the “ae” combo for Laeryn and Novinae.  Then create a place with both: Daelinor.  And then add one that has none of those.  An exception is okay.

Combos

To create the naming style of your fantasy world when building a world, start combining some of these ideas and you’ll find a fun new hobby that elevates your fiction above the fray.

Name Generators

There are a number of fantasy name generators available on the internet, usually for free.  Personally, I don’t use these, finding the names to lack a consistent style and sometimes be lame, too.  Besides, it feels cheap.  Maybe I can find a “novel generator” too and let it write my book for me while I collect the royalties.

But don’t let my opinion stop you if you really want to do it.  Here are a few to try:

Steal a Name

FrodoYou didn’t really see me write that.

But seriously, do you know how many manuscripts are written every year?  Far fewer are published, but if you consider how many names of people, places, and whatever are needed for a single book, the odds of any author coming up with a name no one has ever done before, or ever will again, are pretty much zero.  No one will know.  Just don’t make a habit of it.  And don’t take the entire name if they have a surname, too.  If you can, change something.

If the name is famous, think twice about this.  You won’t get away with a guy named “Conan”, “Raistlin”, or “Frodo”.

Epilogue

Using a little ingenuity and some techniques, name generation can be a ton of fun.  Sometimes I get on a roll and just go with it, keeping a list somewhere so I can grab a name when I need it. As for “Galen”, I just used it for a prince, so go get your own names!

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Creating a Fantasy City, Part 2

Below is the template I use when creating a fantasy city during world building.  Feel free to adapt it your purposes. You can read Part 1 here. Download the PDF or Word template. City/Town Name General Alliances Independent city or part of a kingdom?  Allies? Identification Symbol and Banner: City Colors: Slogans: Famous For What […]

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Creating Fantasy Names For Your Fiction Stories

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Fantasy Species vs. Race?

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 2

In part 1, we looked at some physical considerations when creating races in fantasy books, while building your own world. Now we’ll look at some mental aspects. Mental Considerations Worldview When I watch alien species/races on TV or see them in print, more often than not, I feel like they’re just humans in costume, for […]

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How to Create Fantasy Races or Species, Part 3

In Part 1 we discussed the physical aspects of creating races in fantasy books. Part 2 covers the mental.  Now we’ll look at a downloadable template you can use as a starting point to aid your creative writing. Download the PDF or Word template. The Template Fantasy Race/Species Name Here Nicknames: “” Famous For General […]

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How to Create Plants and Animals for Your Fantasy Setting

In another blog, I discussed whether you should create plants and animals for your fantasy setting.  Assuming you’ve decided to do it, here are tips for doing so. New Ideas If you already have ideas, you can just write them up according to a template like the one I’ve provided here: The Template Animal/Plant Name: […]

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 1

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How to Draw a Fantasy Map, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at where to start and basic continent considerations for drawing a fantasy map.  Now we’ll look at some geographical considerations. Remember Geography Having a basic sense of geography is important or your map won’t make sense.  Some of this is obvious but is still worth pointing out. Rivers For example, […]

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My Guest Post

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Should You Create Plants and Animals in Your Fantasy Setting?

When world building, I used to think there was no point in inventing animals and plants for a fantasy setting.  After all, they’re often just variations on real Earth animals, in which case, why bother?  For example, maybe you have a horse with an extra pair of legs, or a tomato that’s yellow and poisonous, […]

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