Monday, June 20, 2016

World-Building Tips and Tools

World-building is important in any genre. The place our characters inhabit must feel real. The pressure is really on when writing speculative fiction. Portions of the world or its entirety must be created from scratch.

It’s a huge task. Some writers don’t know where to begin and skimp on the world-building. Some get lost in the world-building. No matter where we fall on the spectrum, most writers struggle to some extent with creating a believable world from scratch.

We need to use every weapon in our arsenal. That includes a checklist of basic components and tools to bring our world to life. Our readers will never know the full extent of the universes we create. But as writers, we need that foundation so we can build a great story.

When adding to an existing world or creating one from scratch, we need to consider the dynamics of that world. How do they function? How do they interact with each other? Within that world, are they plausible?

Within the checklist should be a set of rules, governing each unique faction. The science must be sound and believable. The magic must follow the laws of that world. Sure, we’re dealing with the unknown here. But if it doesn’t come across as reasonable, readers won’t buy it.

The Checklist:

When creating your world, answer these questions:

What is this world’s history?

What is the geological setting?

What races inhabit this world?

What animals and plants inhabit this world?

What are their resources?

What are their food sources?

What are their energy sources?

What is the political infrastructure?

What is the technological development?

What commerce do they use?

What are their relations with outside races?

What are their basic beliefs?

What are the occupants’ religious beliefs?

What is the social structure?

What do the inhabitants do as far as work?

What is the goal of each faction of this society?

What is the family structure?

What is the criminal element?

What do they do for recreation?

What colors, sights, smells, textures, etc. do they enjoy?

While it might seem like a lot, just stop and consider the complexity of real life. Just take one question at a time. If you can nail down most of those things, you’ll have a really good grip on your world.

Just don’t go overboard with the research. Remember, a lot of this won’t appear in the story. Resist the urge to dump all of the information on the reader. (Please!) Answering those questions will just help flesh out the story and make it more believable. When we know it – really know the world well – we’ll write a believable story with depth and passion.

Beyond research, there are some really cool tools designed to build worlds:

Cartographer’s Guild – A forum for map makers.

Gimp – Graphic manipulation program.

Impact Earth – Asteroid impact on Earth .

Seventh Sanctum – Random generator of ideas from science fiction weapons to fantasy spells.

Transhuman – Continuous Thrust Travel Time Calculator .

Donjon – Random generator of names, quests, worlds, etc.

Star Gen – World generator.

Carlos Labs – Nuclear fallout maps.

Worldbuilding Stack Exchange – A question and answer site for writers/artists using science, geography and culture to construct imaginary worlds and settings.

Universal Sandbox - A physics-based space simulator. ($24.99)

Pro Fantasy– Campaign Cartographer software. ($44.95)

And here are some awesome world-building articles and sites:

Enderra – world building resources, tips, guidelines, etc.

Kitty’s Writing Toolbox – 52 step world building worksheet and more.

Magical World Building – guide.

The Writing Nut– large list of resources and sites.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go create a world!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Filter out those Filter Words by Alicia Dean, Editor

I would like to introduce everyone to Alicia Dean, editor for The Wild Rose Press under the name Ally Robertson. She is discussing filtering out filter words to help us “show” not “tell”. This is a great lesson, and I hope you enjoy it.

Hello all…I’m happy to be joining the IWSG today, and I’m especially happy to share a little about revising/editing with you. I love working with authors, and if my experience and limited knowledge helps in any small way, I’m thrilled.

Working for The Wild Rose Press, I receive many fantastic submissions, and of course, I receive many that are not so fantastic. J Even out of the well-written, stupendous, engaging manuscripts, I often find that sometimes the authors lean a little heavily on filter words. These are ‘filter’ words because they distance the reader from the action and from the character’s emotion. Words like ‘felt,’ ‘thought,’ ‘wondered,’ ‘heard,’ ‘saw,’ ‘knew,’ ‘noticed,’ etc. Avoiding words like these can make your writing much more active. Filter words are also closely related to ‘telling’ vs ‘showing.’ If you say your character felt or thought something, rather than just ‘showing’ the thought or emotion, then you are telling, when you could be showing.

A few quick examples--and these are taken from recent books I’ve read by extremely successful NYT Best-Selling Authors. Of course, who am I to advise someone who’s done exceedingly well without my advice? However, I couldn’t help but be a bit jarred when I read lines like:

·         She felt panic race through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? Maya thought.
·         Maya saw him exit a door on the east side of the building.
·         She knew Mark had been working there for four years.

Just a few brief tweaks would bring us much closer to what’s happening:

·         Panic raced through her bloodstream
·         How would she ever get him to talk? (We’re in Maya’s point of view, and there were no dialogue tags, so readers know she ‘thought’ it)
·         He exited a door on the east side of the building. (We’re in her POV, and if the author just states that he exited a door, readers will know she ‘saw’ it happen)
·         Mark had been working there for four years. (Again, readers know she ‘knew’ it because it was stated while in her POV)

I know it’s worse for me than an average reader, since it’s my job to ‘edit,’ but whether or not a reader realizes that the author is using filter words and telling instead of showing, they DO know whether or not they can relate, and I believe they can relate more fully if we try to avoid filter words that might distance them.

Having said that, I would definitely not reject a manuscript because of overusage of filter words, but it is something we would most assuredly work on during edits.

Do you have the nasty filter word habit? You might just consider words like this as you’re revising, and see how many you can eliminate to make your story more active. Even now, I read books I’ve written and I find where I used filter words too. It’s easy to let them slip in. Thank you for joining me today. If you have any questions, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Check out Alicia's blog every Tuesday for her Two-Minute Tips where she offers quick tips for busy writers.


Alicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. She has three grown children and a huge network of supportive friends and family. She writes mostly contemporary suspense and paranormal, but has also written in other genres, including a few vintage historicals.

In addition to being an author of more than twenty-five published works, Alicia is both a freelance editor and an editor for The Wild Rose Press, under the name, Ally Robertson, in their suspense line.

Other than reading and writing, her passions are Elvis Presley, MLB, NFL (she usually works in a mention of one or all three into her stories) and watching her favorite televisions shows like Vampire Diaries, Justified, Sons of Anarchy, Haven, The Mindy Project, and Dexter (even though it has sadly ended, she will forever be a fan). Some of her favorite authors are Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Lisa Gardner, Sharon Sala, Jordan Dane, Ridley Pearson, Joseph Finder, and Jonathan Kellerman…to name a few. 

Find Alicia Here:
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Monday, June 6, 2016

End Cliche Speed Bumps

Cliches are all around us. Cliched plot lines. Cliched characters. Cliched blog posts? Sometimes cliches slip into our writing and we don't realize it. How can they be avoided? Do we even realize how many we use? Is crying a cliche when showing a character's sadness? How else can we write sadness instead of just having a person cry? Drooping shoulders. Flat, monotone voice. Heavy-footed walk. Staring down at empty hands or clutching a token like a cross of memorabilia.

Think of other things we write or read many, many times. Ear to ear grin ... sounds a bit creepy instead of joyful. Waves of nausea. Quaking knees. Shivers crawling up the spine. Pounding heart.

Most of us write a few of those into our work. And the more experienced you are, the more likely that they create a snag in the flow. You stop typing, knowing you have to make that sentence better. You have to get the emotion across without an overused phrase. I used to do this all the time. But another writer gave me permission to not let these things slow me down. Cliches are permitted in first drafts. Now when I write one I wince, but I keep on moving. Fix it in the next draft. Fix it when your critique partner points it out. Fix it before an editor sees it but don't let it slow you down in the first draft.

One of the ways I fix my cliches is by using the best-selling resource, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression. A member of my writers' group recommended this book a few years ago. I've had it on my desk side shelf for a while now. I don't pull it out for the first draft but keep it on hand during the second.

So instead of worrying that your protagonist shed a single tear or their eyes widened again, finish the first draft and then make the second draft as shiny as a new penny and cliche free.

What cliches do you find in your writing? Any particular cliche you see often when reading that really bothers you?  Are you familiar with The Emotional Thesaurus and its sequels? And why couldn't I figure out how to get the accent mark over the 'e' in cliche?