Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Worldbuilding Introduction

Originally posted Jun 10, 2019. Updated as of Feb 21, 2020. 

I realized when I was going back through my posts and organizing for my next worldbuilding post that one of the things I hadn’t done was include a list of covered topics. You can now find that below the original post.


Worldbuilding is a huge part of writing genres like fantasy and science fiction. It’s also a large part of games, both tabletop and video. Whether it’s a sprawling other-worldly planet like Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, or something as simple as a hidden layer of magic in a real city, worldbuilding is the key to your fictional setting.

If you ask ‘what is worldbuilding’ the answer is pretty simple and straightforward. Worldbuilding is building any fictional setting regardless of size. That makes it a core component of fantasy and sci-fi. It pops up plenty in other genres too, usually in smaller doses.

Depending on how deep you go, worldbuilding can be expansive and large enough to cover entire tomes on its own. How much you need can be dependent on both how much you want to explore your world, and the requirements of your story. Aside from what the world looks like physically, there are also cultural aspects to consider and cover. Daily life is another aspect that can be affected–your characters won’t have to run an errand specifically to get gas if they’re traveling around by horse, but they will have a lot more daily chore requirements.

Because of the amount that can go into worldbuilding, I’m kicking off an ongoing series. Today I’m starting by looking at the different ways of building a world.

There are a lot of ways of building a world. Random Generation is one way and can be useful to provide a basic structure. Generators can be found for everything from city layouts to political maps. Although this takes out a lot of the work of coming up with names and the picky details, it is random so it can and will contradict itself in some places, which is something to be on the lookout for. If continuity isn’t a concern but time is, random generation is extremely useful.

Questionnaires are another method. The internet is full of question lists to help you figure out what your world is doing and give you an idea of things you may have overlooked. These can get extremely detailed and are really thought provoking in some cases (have you ever thought about what happens to the waste your fictional people produce?), but answering those questions can also be time consuming, both on writing the answers down and on researching examples to see how it works in the real-world. If you need fully-customized answers and have the time to make sure everything works nicely together, this is a fantastic method for building a detailed world.

Expansion is my favorite method, and sort of a middle-ground between generation and questionnaires. By starting with one level (be that a kingdom or a tiny shop somewhere) and building on the general idea, you end up ‘nesting’ locations. The tiny shop is located in this little town, which is located in this region, which is part of this kingdom and so on and so forth. Name each level as you go through it (Sam’s Shop of Contraband Sales for example), and work out the general idea of what it’s for and what it does before moving up or down the level as needed. This gives you a general overview of the world as a whole. It’s less time-consuming than questionnaires while maintaining continuity, but it’s not as detailed.

Of course, there’s also nothing to stop you from blending all three methods together. If you need an idea to start, a randomly generated town or city can give you a good base for expansion. If you have a general overview of the world but need more details, filling out a questionnaire or two is a good way to go.

Worldbuilding Topics

Posted in Exercises, writing

The Middle Bit

When it comes to a story, there’s three main parts to the plot: The beginning, the middle and the end. If you want to get technical, there’s an exposition, rising action, climax and  resolution. Regardless of what you call them, there’s one part that causes numerous headaches.

The middle. Writers everywhere struggle with getting from the opening to the ending.

The Saggy Middle is a common complaint among writers. We’ve all been there. The opening is great! The climax is dramatic. The resolution is perfect.

It’s that bit between the opening and the climax that’s not holding a lot of tension, causing it to feel lackluster and flabby. There’s a couple of reasons that might be, most of them structural in nature.

If you’re a pantser like me, beware of having too many detours in your middle. While it’s easy to wander through a lot of different scenes, make sure you’re taking a look at what each scene is doing for your plot. Do you really need it? If the answer is no, remove it. If it does add something, ask yourself if it’s in the right place: does it make sense in context with only the two nearest scenes? If not, move it to a more appropriate place.

If you’re more of a plotter and you’ve done an outline, then take at the tension in your scenes. If your characters aren’t facing obstacles, then it can seem like you’ve driven them into the climax with no real motivation to change. Take a look at whether or not you’ve got enough obstacles in the way of your characters. If you don’t, look at where obstacles would make sense and consider reworking the specific scenes.

No Idea What Happens Next is another problem with the middle, but it occurs most often in the actual writing process of an early or rough draft. You might know how to start the story, and you might know where it ends. What happens in between can be a bit fuzzier.

In this case, try making a list of things that could happen. They don’t need to be an outline, or even logical–just start listing things your characters could do. Let your inspiration wander freely down this list. Remember you can come back later and take out anything that doesn’t fit.

Once you have a list of at least five things, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write a scene as if each of those things is what happens next. Which ones are you more inclined to keep writing on?

 

Posted in General, writing

Deciding On a Rewrite

Writing a first draft is well-known to be rough. That’s one of the reasons why it’s also called the rough draft. Doing an entire rewrite is only moderately easier. If you’re a panster/discovery writer, doing a rewrite can completely spark an all new interest in the story. But, how do you decide on doing a complete rewrite?

For me, that start with the intent to polish a very rough draft. As with everything else I edit, I started by making a list of things that needed attention. This only covered the big arcs of character and plot, and scene-level issues like placement problems and incorrect facts. That ended up being a two-page list of large issues.

From there, I started looking at the major structural problems I was having. The big one was plot. Although it’s got a good base on it, it’s rushed and there are parts of it that feel a little contrived. That was a good note however, I know in my early drafts the plot can be a little wobbly, but the fact I had a decent base meant I also had a good chance of salvaging something.

Characters were also another really big problem. Their motivations either weren’t clear or were utterly nonexistent. The three biggest characters also only differed from each other in very small ways: none of them stood out as a character on their own.  I also had some problems with side characters, who I admit, only seemed to exist to fill in a role in the story.

My setting was good, though it can still use some fleshing out. It offered plenty of place for conflict and both resources and obstacles for my characters. The problem was my plot almost completely ignored those opportunities. Between that and the glaring problems with my characters, the structure of the story itself wasn’t sound.

It was pretty obvious right away that there wasn’t much hope for polish. As it was, the story needed too much structural work. Although there’s a few lines I’m hoping will survive, a handful of sentences out of some fifty-thousand words isn’t a lot.

Starting the rewrite however, first requires going back and building a little more groundwork. To that extent I’m doing some worldbuilding and a few character-development exercises.

Posted in Stories, writing

Short Story: Prior Engagements

Romance, Everett decided as he stomped down the altar’s runner, was entirely useless.

He’d spent more than two and half years courting Miss Lavender, and now today of all days, she announced she wouldn’t be marrying him.

Not even to his face.

She’d sent a letter.

The last six months of wedding preparations had to be undone. At least half of what he’d spent was permanently lost. That much he’d expected for some places, especially for the church. They used the fees and money to help keep the church in running order.

The fact he’d had the priests offering their condolences as if someone had died was what bothered him the most.

He yanked the church doors open, striding outside without looking at what lay behind. A yelp and he fell backwards, having collided with someone on their way in.

“I’m so sorry.”

Her voice was gentle and Everett looked up. Her basket had spilled, dried flowers and a few carefully letter papers littering the steps. All the same, she held a hand down to him.

“It’s not your fault,” Everett said. “I shouldn’t be letting my temper get me into a mood to stomp around.”

She smiled as he took her hand. He hardly needed the help up, but accepted. Everett straightened his vest and bent again, scooping up the things he’d spilled when they’d collided.

“Thank you,” she said. “Although, may I ask what has you in such a mood?”

Such a light, gentle tone, like kisses from the air. He had to chuckle, a little darker. “My bride-to-be had decided she won’t be marrying me. I’ve spent most of the day running around and trying to undo all of the wedding preparations. I…” He glanced back at the altar.

It looked like any other day of the week with how it was set now. Three bowls. One each for the land, the sea and the sky. On his wedding day they would have been surrounded by sprays of flowers and ribbons. Their rings would have been blessed in each bowl before they were allowed to place them on their fingers.

Thoughts for another time, Everett decided and turned with a shake of his head. “I am sorry,” he said as she counted her papers. “Like I said, I shouldn’t be letting my mood make me stomp around.”

“For something that heartbreaking, it’s understandable. Just, perhaps, be a little more observant before you run into someone else, please?”

The soft smile on her face melted some of his anger away. “Of course,” he said. “I—I’m so sorry, I don’t even have your name.”

“Blair,” she answered and inclined her head. “And you’re Everett Atoll.”

“Uh—yes. I don’t recognize you.”

“I’d be surprised if you did. My father’s one of your newest business partners. Ashton Carrier.”

Blair Carrier. He’d not only run into a young, gentle woman, but Blair Carrier herself. Masterful writer and champion of charities across the region.

“I’m so sorry Miss Carrier,” he said. “Please, let me make it up to you.”

“Blair!”

That wasn’t her father’s voice but she turned towards it all the same. The man who came up had to be at least ten years older than her. He caught her hand with affection on his face. “Are you alright?”

“Fine, Jacob. A little mishap, nothing more. I just need to see these are handled properly and then we can get back home.”

Everett knew Jacob. He’d been introduced as a family retainer during one business meeting. Doubtless sent to help Blair with her errands today.

Jacob sighed and offered a mocking bow. “As the lady demands.”

Blair laughed and turned, lifting one side of her skirt as she bowed to Everett. “I have some things to see to. If you need help with anything, I’m happy to assist.”

He couldn’t hep but smile. “Thank you, but unless you happen to know someone in need of a white lace dress, I’m afraid everything else is out of my hands.”

“White lace? I might know someone,” Blair said.

“Really?’” It surprised him and Blair laughed.

“I do like having a few nicer dresses.”

“It’s—uh, perhaps I can help you here and show you the dress? It’s at Missus Cleary’s now.”

“I’d love to. Oh, Jacob. I’m sorry.”

Jacob however, held up a hand, a smile on his face. “It matters little and gives me time perhaps to ensure lunch isn’t forgotten before someone else finds a need of your aid for some reason.”

Blair laughed and shook her head before she turned another smile on Everett. “Give me the hour and then shall I meet you at Missus Cleary’s?”

“Absolutely,” Everett said. “Thank you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” she said and offered a little wave. He returned it as his mood lightened.

She vanished into the church and Everett gave himself a little shake while Jacob beamed after her. “She is a marvel,” Jacob said and inclined her head. “I’ll see to it that the cost of the dress is covered for Miss Blair.”

“It’s already paid for,” Everett said and turned. “I’m happier that I don’t have another reminder of my prior engagement hanging about. Perhaps I should have mentioned it was a wedding dress.”

Jacob chuckled as he followed Blair inside. Everett watched over his shoulder a moment longer before he shook it off. He’d get rid of the wedding dress—perhaps offer to have some alterations added so it wasn’t as clear what its intended purpose had been.

Besides, he decided, it was only Blair Carrier being the kind young woman she was known to be. It wasn’t as if Everett would be foolish enough to romance another woman.

Not at least, so soon after his prior engagement.


by A.J. Helms

If you enjoyed this, you can find more of my works by visiting my books page or picking up a copy of my newest release, Crimson and Gold for Kindle.

Posted in writing

Word Confusion

There are some words that are all too easy to get confused. While there are entire lists debating how to keep them straight and offering helpful tips and tricks for pairs like lose and loose, there’s always a few more than slip through. And, dependent on which words you know best, you might be surprised at the ones that get mixed up. Here’s a few.

Definite vs Defiant 
Definite means something is clear and obvious. It’s applied to things like ideas or of a person’s certainty. Defiant however is the state of opposing an authority. It’s applied to things like young rebels and angry mobs.  You can keep them straight by remembering that defiant has an a to show anger.

Affect vs Effect 
The case of affect and effect is easy to understand: they’re one letter off from each other, and they both mean a change. Affect is a verb meaning to change or impact, where as effect is a noun meaning the end result of a change. If you can remember affect as the action, and effect as the end result, they’re a little easier to keep straight.

Lose vs Loose 
These two are ones I miss all the time. Lose is to fail or misplace. Loose applies to things that aren’t tight, or are unsecured (such as a loose dog). Loose has an extra o, making space for all the things that aren’t tightened.

Advice vs Advise 
These both have to do with giving opinions or information with the intent of guiding someone. However, advice is is a noun you receive from others where as advise is the verb you do when you give advice. Remember, take advice from a council and advise with a soft voice.

Desert vs Dessert 
Don’t get these two mixed up when you’re looking for a late night snack. Desert is a dry place of land. Dessert is a sweet treat. It’s easy to keep track: you want more dessert, which is why it has an extra s.

There are plenty of other words that get mixed up. If you’re ever in doubt about the word you’re using, try checking synonyms: if you get words that would make no sense in the context of your sentence, chances are you’re using the wrong word. It might also help for you to make a list of words you mix up personally, and make sure to check that you’re using the correct one when you’re editing.