Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Folklore

Part of building a world completely from scratch includes figuring out what the myths and legends of the world will be. Folklore is such a big component of how we view the world and conduct ourselves that it can be impossible to get away from it completely. Every culture on earth—our very real world—has folklore in all its glorious forms.

Don’t be fooled by the name. Folklore isn’t just the stories and myths. It also crosses into the songs, proverbs, dance and traditions of a culture. The largest difference between folklore and culture in worldbuilding is that folklore exists to help teach and preserve a culture.

Although folklore is intended to teach and preserve, many of its forms are also meant to entertain or celebrate. Folklore is often used to pass on wisdom and advice to children. Many fairy tales carry a moral message and even superstition relies on doing right or wrong as evidenced by things like ‘step on a crack, break your mother’s back.’

For that reason, folklore actually becomes very easy to create. You might already have a few pieces of it already, to explain things like seasons or why night and day exist. You can expand on these by creating stories or rhymes about what happens when a person or animal obeys or doesn’t follow the advice or morality of the tale.  Take a look at any of Aesop’s Fables for examples of how this goes.

When creating a proverb or even an old wives’ tale, you can be more direct about the message or lesson. The key with these is that they should be short and memorable. If it helps, try creating an analogy between natural actions and your proverb. For example, wild birds will often fly away when startled or threatened. A tame one however, remains in hand and has no need to be recaptured. Forsaking what you have at home for the unknown of the wilds isn’t always a good idea. You may end up with nothing, even when there’s supposedly so much out there—after all, a bird in hand is worth two in the bush.  

I’d love to know! What’s some of the folklore in your world?

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Law and Enforcement

No matter what sort of genre you write, if you’re doing any sort of worldbuilding it’s a good idea to take a look at your laws and how they’re enforced. Anarchy isn’t generally a great backdrop—dystopian settings and Armageddon excluded.

There’s two ways you can start this. One is to figure out who polices the population and where their power is derived from. This is especially key to finding out where the flaws in your enforcement system are. It’s unlikely you’ll have a perfect enforcement system. Power after all corrupts, and when you’re dealing with people who are there solely to maintain order, they have a fair amount of power.

The other place you could start is figuring out which laws need the most enforcement. This gives you a bigger look at your society, but also opens up a lot of other questions such as why those laws in particular need enforcement. If thievery is your biggest problem, ask yourself why your civilians find it necessary to steal. Is it possible that the general public lacks resources, making theft a survival tactic? If it’s a lack of resources and power driving their crimes, why hasn’t your enforcement agency stepped in to correct this?

Regardless of where you start, it’s a good idea to have an answer for both. Knowing who does the enforcing and where they need to enforce the most is crucial in building a justice system. This gives you a base for expanding from simple enforcement officers such as police or guards into the larger judicial system of judges, juries and executioners. Ask yourself how trials are conducted. Do your enforcement officers carry the task of both catching and condemning criminals? How is the system balanced between stopping a crime and protecting the innocent?

Lastly, now that you know how your system works and what drives it, ask yourself who would join the ranks of your law enforcement. Are these willing volunteers with good intentions? Are they chosen because they meet certain criteria, and if so, who does the choosing? Are these desperate people hoping for a chance to protect their loved ones from the brutality the system inflicts on the populace? Are these men and women serving because they’re required to do so by some legal stipulation?

What does your world’s law and enforcement system look like? If you feel like sharing, drop a comment below!

Posted in writing

Writing as Exploration

One of the most alluring things about reading fiction is the glimpse it gives us into other worlds and possibilities. Although most of us probably won’t get into a swordfight with a tyrant, or travel to another world, we can read about the possibility of doing just that.

Unfortunately for us writers, we still have to come up with some idea of what that possibility might mean. The trifecta of writing includes characters, setting and plot. We might have an idea of one or even two, but what happens when we just don’t have any ideas for that third part? This is where you might find something like flash fiction coming in handy. Take the ideas for plot, setting or character you have, and start asking questions.

Think of things like how an average joe, everyday character might be forced to take part in your main conflict. What’s the first major law someone from another country or world might break, intentionally or unintentionally? What do the basics of life like grocery shopping, housekeeping and even hygiene look like for your everyday people? Jot down at least three or four questions and write a page of a scenario that answers those questions.

This even works for fiction stories that take place in the real world, without the addition of magic or anything else. Start asking questions about who might uncover a secret? What secrets might they uncover, either from their family and friends, at their job, or from a passing stranger. How do they discover these secrets? How do they handle this new information? How does it affect their life?

If you’re really struggling, it might also help to take a scene or a chapter from another story you’ve enjoyed, and rewrite it as if it’s happening to your characters in your setting. Use that other scene as a skeleton structure. Copy the basic elements such as number of characters present, general location (like house or hospital) and major goals or events of the scene.

Even though these exploratory pieces may never make it into the story itself, it still gives you as the writer a good way to immerse yourself in the possibilities of your story. Your readers may only get a glimpse of the story’s possibilities, but the more details you can find, the more enticing the glimpse will be.

Posted in writing

Story Bibles

If you’re a writer and you’re in the midst of editing, or even writing a series, you probably want a place to keep track of all the details of your story. It’s incredibly useful, especially if you want to write a series. Bonus points: if you do a lot of roleplaying and need or want to write your own campaign, having a story bible set up for your in-world conflicts, NPCs and lore makes it easier to keep your campaign more or less on track (sorry, but I can’t promise the same of your players).

A story bible is essentially a document or several documents that keeps the details of your story or stories together. This prevents things like character details changing unexpectedly halfway through the story. It also helps keep worldbuilding and relevant setting details in one place so you don’t have to go hunting for particular details.

There’s several ways you can keep a story bible. If you’d prefer a hardcopy, a binder or multi-subject notebook is a good option. This way you can section your bible off as necessary. Digital options include things like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, or even something like World Anvil or Notebook.ai to keep your bible sorted and on track. Depending on your preference and how you work best, you may find one option better than the other. I personally prefer to keep a digital copy of my notes in OneNote because of the search function.

Although your story bible should work for you, there’s a few sections you may find helpful to keep in it.

Character Notes. This is a good place to keep things like detailed descriptions, character sketches, backstories and family trees. I usually create a small section for each character so I can keep track of their character arc during edits.

Setting Notes. Depending on the genre you’re working in, this can easily become a massive portion of your story bible. Everything from notes on legal systems to lore can be placed in your setting notes. For speculative writers, this spreads to include bestiaries, cultural analysis, maps and even engineering schematics as necessary.

Story Notes. Editing and writing in general tends to create a multitude of different notes—outlines, and even thematic notations. Having a story-specific section makes it easier to keep all your editing tools in one place. A lot of my plotting notes end up here, but I also try to keep a list of any flash pieces relevant to the story, world or characters here.  This way if I need to reference something for a flashback or thematic reason, I can easily reference back to the original piece.

What are some of the things you keep in your story bibles? How do you prefer to keep them?

Posted in Exercises, writing

Editing Worksheets

Editing is probably one of the hardest parts of the entire writing process. Once you’re through the effort of writing a rough draft, you then have to pick it apart to find the parts that aren’t working and to make them better. It might be hard to do that, especially when you’re still in the honeymoon phase of just having finished a rough draft. To celebrate the end of NaNoWriMo, I’m including some of the worksheets I use when starting my editing process. Hopefully one of these gives you a good place to start and helps you through the next step of the journey!

Keep in mind that writing—including editing—is a hugely personal and diverse process for each writer. What works for your favorite author may not work for you. Conversely, stories can also throw  Try lots of different things.

Worldbuilding Questions Packet. I’ll often use this as way to help flesh out and kickstart any necessary worldbuilding when my setting feels flat. You don’t necessarily need to answer every question, but having a general idea can help find places where I need to spend a little more time developing the setting, or can highlight interesting conflicts I haven’t explored yet.

The Main Plot. Based off the classic pyramid plot structure, this gives a good overview of the main plot points and tensions in the draft. It can be a good starting point before getting into a more detailed outline, especially when I have a story that needs heavy restructuring in the plot.

Conflict and Event. Similar to the above, Conflict and Event can be used to see how the main and subplot(s) are playing off each other. I have it set up for three conflicts (a main and two subplots) but you can ignore the third if you only need two.

Character Motivations. I’m firmly in the camp of ‘characters make the story’. Character actions and reactions create a plot, and the reason behind their actions and reactions all comes down to motivation. This helps get beyond long-term and short-term goals and into their core values.

Where will you start your editing?

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Psst! Patrons also get an additional three worksheets, one for character arcs, one for subplots and one for more worldbuilding. Check out my Patreon to find these!