Posted in worldbuilding

Worldbuilding: Maps

At some point in my life, I want to arrange a home office that contains a map of every fictional world I love. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Paolini’s Alagaësia, McCaffery’s world of Pern. An entire wall dedicated just to the maps of fictional worlds. I love the look of fictional maps.

And there’s no better place to find fictional maps than in worldbuilding. if you’re doing any worldbuilding, you might be asking yourself if you need a map.  How you determine if you need a map will vary greatly from creator to creator. For me, that’s usually asking myself some questions.

  • Are there multiple locations?
  • Are any conflicts reliant on location?
  • Are there specific features that affect the scenes in that location?
  • Am I, personally, having a hard time figuring where settings are in relation to one another?

Typically if I answer yes to all of those, I’ll at least do a quick map sketch. Your process for determining if you need a map may look different. Sometimes maps are just fun to create, without anything else behind them. Sometimes creating a map is just an unnecessary headache.

If you do decide you need or want a map: Go for it! There’s dozens of ways to create a fictional map. You might want to try out several different methods to find the one you like the best.

Hand drawn: The classic method is of course, drawing or sketching a map. You can most certainly use paper, or you can try using a digital art program to create it. (Tip: If you’ve never used a digital art program, check out Gimp. It’s a free photoshop alternative with a fairly low learning curve).  The beauty of hand drawn maps is that it’s okay if they’re on the rough side and there’s several dozen tutorials across the internet to help you create your map. You can also check out a map creation software or commission an artist to create one for you.  

Generated: In some instances, you might want the map before you start writing or designing the story. For that, try a map generator. If you’d like a ready-made map try out Azgaar’s fantasy map generator. If you’re willing to put in a little more work, there are options such as the polygon map generator which give you just the land mass. This lets you either create your own names for landmarks and locations, or you can pair it with a naming generator. Although generators give you a cleaner look with less upfront work, be mindful of the restrictions on use: not every generator allows use for commercial works.  

Regardless of how you choose to create your map, it can be an enjoyable process. Take some time to play with the different options and find the one that works best for you.

I’d love to see your fictional maps! Drop me a comment below if you’ve got one you’d like me to check out.

Posted in General, writing

Daily Writing Habits

One of the most common pieces of advice thrown around for writers is to write daily. There’s no arguing that even just a hundred words a day will add up at the end of the year (you’d have just over thirty-six thousand to be exact). The key to that however, is in not missing a day.

Sometimes, sitting down at the keyboard for an hour or more just isn’t possible every single day. There are days where I struggle to find even a half hour, and frequently it’s in little scattered chunks of time. Five minutes here, ten minutes there. Tiny chunks that get interrupted.

The key to making writing a daily habit is often in size. I can’t always sit down and hammer out three thousand words a day—but I can certainly find fifteen minutes to scribble something down.

By keeping my daily habit small, it’s manageable. Even when I’m just not in the mood to write, having a small goal means I can be done with it and move on to the next thing. And sometimes having that fifteen minutes is enough to find my groove and get into a flow.

Sometimes, writing doesn’t actually mean writing. There are dozens of workbooks out there that ask all manner of good questions about your story, your scene, your setting, your characters and anything else in your story. It’s not a bad idea to consider answering one or two or even three of those questions a day when you’re not actively putting words to the page. It helps sharpen your craft and polish your story.

  To set a reasonable daily habit for yourself, take a few minutes and consider all the things you have to do on the daily. Include things like household chores, cooking, caring for children and the hours you spend at work. Now, consider how quickly you can write. What is the smallest possible number you can write in five minutes? Set that as your daily goal.

As a back-up for those days where writing just isn’t going to happen: Find or make a list of general questions to try and answer for every story you write. Consider things like identifying themes, recurrent messages, character motivations. Scale these questions up to be story-encompassing, and down to cover scene-level details. Set an alternate goal to answer a couple of questions (even if you don’t write the answers down right away) on your non-writing days.

What do your daily writing habits look like?

Posted in character, Exercises

The Emotion Wheel

Of the three cornerstones of storytelling, characters have to put up with a lot. Not only do they have to respond and react to the movements of plot, but they do so within the constrains of their setting. Their motives are constantly questioned and everyone almost always wants to know what their goal is.

It’s no wonder your characters should and do feel a lot of things. From joy to disgust to rage and even hopelessness, your characters have an entire gamut of possible emotions. As a writer, your job is to help portray those emotions. Body language absolutely should be something you familiarize yourself with, and so should the array of human emotion.

For that, I recommend an emotion wheel.

You might also see this referred to as the wheel of feelings. In essence, it breaks every emotion down into its basic elements—Embarrassment is rooted in hurt, which has roots in anger. Confidence takes a base in pride, which in turn stems from happiness..

Essentially this functions as an extended thesaurus, not only giving you an accurate word for what your character is feeling, but giving you an idea of why they might be feeling that way, and how they might express it. Both disgust and boredom can be conveyed by having a character support their head on one hand, either with a sneer in place (disgust) or a blank expression (bored).

Keep in mind that emotions are fluid and aren’t necessarily bound to follow a logical order. Not only does sadness turn into fear, it can also turn into disgust or even hope. Just as easily, happiness can turn into anger.

As an exercise: Go to any stock photo site such as pixabay or unsplash and search for a base emotion—anger, fear, sadness, happiness, disgust or surprise. Pick out three different images and analyze them. What are some of the similarities in the models’ body languages? What are some differences? What higher-level emotions might each model be feeling? Write down those cues and clues as a reference the next time you have a character feeling a particular emotion.

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 Exercises

Exercise: Crafting Thematic Imagery

Imagery and theme are two of the most powerful tools you have as a writer. Meshing them together isn’t always the easiest however. So for today’s exercise, you have a bit of a challenge:

Start by making a list of images you could associate with your theme. For example if your theme is peace, you might include doves and olive branches on your list.

Once you have your list of images, find ways to work those images in via figurative language. For example:

  • Her voice came out in a whisper soft as dove feathers.
  • The rose became an olive branch for their earlier disagreement.

In this way, not only do you strengthen your imagery, you’re also able to reinforce the theme.

What are some of the images you came up with? How did you work them into your writing?