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!

Posted in Exercises, General

Thematic Elements

If you’ve ever heard that there’s no new stories, you might feel a little disheartened, especially if you’re wondering why you should be writing. The bad news is that for the most part, it’s true: there’s no new elements in storytelling. The good news however, is that the elements themselves are only minorly important, what makes your story unique is how you combine them.

For today I want to talk about thematic elements specifically. By definition, theme is an idea that recurs in art or literature. That covers a lot of ground from particular settings to character archetypes to messages.

One of the best examples of thematic elements are fairy-tale retellings. The characters tend to crop up again and again, often facing some of the same conflicts. Cinderella has to face her Evil Stepmother. Red Riding Hood faces the Wolf. Beauty saves the Beast.

Some elements, such as symbols, are also powerful thematic elements. The glass slipper, for instance is often used to represent Cinderella. Mixing these symbols up among stories gives a new angle on the story. What happens when it’s a bite of Snow White’s apple that can break the Beast’s curse, instead of true love? What happens when Rapunzel is the one cursed to sleep for a hundred years?

Even playing with setting as a thematic element can create unique stories. Taking Robin Hood out of Sherwood Forest and putting him in New York City certainly changes things! What happens when King Arthur is removed from the settings of Camelot and Avalon?

As an exercise: Pick three of your favorite books or movies and compare their thematic elements. Consider what character archetypes appear. Think about the symbols and messages used throughout. And finally, think of how the story might be impacted by changing the setting.

Posted in worldbuilding, writing

Exposition

In storytelling, exposition has two meanings. The first is the opening portion of your plot arc. That is, where your story begins. The second is the one I want to touch on today.

The second use of exposition is the information needed for a story to make sense. That second part covers a lot of ground. It includes character backstories, worldbuilding, societal rules, legal definitions and a host of other things that vary from story to story. Exposition is important because it’s what makes characters, plots and settings work properly. It’s all the information going on behind the scenes that helps a story progress logically.

The big problem with exposition is that while your characters might know it, your readers might not. You don’t need to explain your own childhood to yourself, but for some stories, not knowing a character’s history causes bumps in the road. How do you get exposition out of the way?

Explain it. I know it seems obvious and you’re probably about to shout ‘INFO DUMP’ at me but hold on a second. Yes, info dumps are a way of getting information on the page. Arguably both sci-fi and fantasy are awful at this because then tend to rely heavily on worldbuilding, so there’s always a lot of information. It’s a common trope to have a prologue which details the history of the world, or of a particular set of characters, or that recounts some prophecy or the other.

However, you can reasonably explain information that’s relevant to the story by having your characters discuss it, or by having them realize what they’ve believed or known about that information is wrong. When using the dialogue option, you can offer back-and-forth questions to cover the usual who, what, why, when and how as needed. By having an internal realization, you make the exposition an active part of the story, rendering it a vital part of that character’s arc.

Imply it. Just as you’re not likely to think about your entire history without something that triggers a recollection, your characters likely won’t either. They may however, reference their personal histories when interacting with other characters.

An example of this is when dealing with a character that’s been disgraced for some reason. They may refer to a particular portion of time as ‘before’. Those characters that don’t know what happened can then ask ‘before what’ which gives you an opportunity to either relate it, or to tease it out a bit at a time. A bonus to this one: you give your readers more of a reason to invest in a character.

Similarly, when dealing with world or event information, your characters aren’t likely to have textbook perfect recollection of every single event. Could they possibly give you a good summary of what happened in the last war? Maybe, if they paid attention and had the chance and ability to learn about what happened. Or, maybe they know more about what sort of plants are likely to react with negative magical affects than they know about relations between differing duchies.

Exposition in storytelling is a necessary and vital part of understanding the story, but delivering that information shouldn’t get in the way of the story itself. When and where possible, use it to deepen a conflict: think about if your rival characters get into arguments about who’s right about the environmental risks of paper straws. Also consider your characters and their history. It may take time for your characters to open up and explain, letting you drop little hints and hooks through their actions and reactions.  

Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Flora

I covered creating and managing fictional animals in another post, but today we’re discussing plants. There’s a huge amount to cover when it comes to plants, but this is just a basic overview if you’re looking too add in some foliage to your world. The good news is, plants bring in a whole world of information on their own.

It’s likely you’ve heard that there’s a flower language. This doesn’t just apply to which flowers are appropriate to send your sister for her birthday however, this covers almost every plant known to man. Four leaf clovers bring luck, oregano symbolizes joy and of course, roses indicate love.

Plants also exist in every environment. Before you scream there’s no plants in Antarctica, there are in fact Antarctic hair grasses, many mosses and lichens and even fungi. Plants are everywhere, so consider what sort of environment they exist in. Desert plants need to conserve water. Fruit-bearing plants need a way to either protect their seeds, or to aid in seed dispersal.

Like with animals, when creating a plant, consider a few things:

  • Where does it grow?
  • How does it spread new plants?
  • How would it defend itself from being eaten?

These three things make it easy to start on plants, and help cover the basics. When covering where it grows, consider threats to its water supply such as drought, or even over saturation. Nutrient poor soil choices will also tend to make for more stubborn plants who grow slower. And plants that need to protect their roots from things like burrowing animals might have poisonous roots, but edible berries and leaves.

Keep in mind that some plants are well known for helping with common ailments. Medicinal herbs are easy to find, but unless you know what you’re doing, that can same herb can turn from on-hand remedy to poisonous with little warning.

You don’t need to look hard for plants with magical properties either. Dandelions are supposed to grant wishes when you blow on them, and St. John’s Wort will fend off evil spirits. Superstitions can show you where common plants might have an additional property.

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