Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: world-building

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, we are going to go the distance. Literally. No matter what genre we write, our characters generally go places. The physical distance between these places impacts the timelines of our stories, pacing, and tension. Distance, great or small, can also be used to create atmosphere or to illustrate differences between characters.

But, before we get too much farther (ha ha, pun fully intended), here is the requisite photo of Denny Basenji, who is determined to go nowhere and do nothing.

GPS, Equipages, and Transporters

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what genre we write. Every story takes place in a…well…place. Whether it’s another planet, a fantasy realm full of dragons, Regency England, or today’s Los Angeles, distance plays a part in shaping and defining the story.

Let’s tackle the easy stuff first. When we write about anyplace on planet Earth, all we have to do is use Google Maps to get a sense of location, geography, nearby locales, and distance (by planes, trains, and automobiles…and bikes and feet).

I generally keep a little written note of the locations in my story and how far from one to the other. It’s quick a quick reference guide for me as I write, and it eventually helps my editors and proofreaders ensure consistency.

Staying on planet Earth but going back in time, we are still dealing with the same locations (for the most part), so Google Maps is still our friend.

However, now, we have to add in another layer: transportation. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on foot, the complex transportation logistics of a Crusade, taking the carriage to the ball, or crossing an ocean or continent using steam-powered engines, the way our characters get places must be factored into the overall timeline and plot.

But…how exactly do we figure out how long it would have taken a farmer’s cart with two old horses to go twenty miles versus a smart little phaeton with a pair of bright, brisk ponies?

Ah, hello, Google, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

 No, seriously, you can google that stuff. It might take a little bit of digging (depending on how complex the logistics or how detailed you want to get), but the information is out there.

To prove my point, I just typed in, “average travel speed by phaeton and ponies” on Google and came up with a wealth of information about travel speeds and terrains (in both miles and kilometers!). If I really wanted to nail the exact amount of time it would take Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice to go around the 10 miles of Pemberley’s  Park in the phaeton, I would probably spend about twenty minutes to half-an-hour digging through Google results.

For science fiction and fantasy, we get to create the rules, but then, *sighs* we then have to play by them. We can create any alien planet or mist-ringed elven realm we want, but as part of basic world-building, we must actually build the world.

Look at classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings. Herbert has very specific rules and details about space travel and distance between Fremen enclaves on Arrakis. In LOTR, Tolkien provides perhaps the most perfect example ever of using geographical distance to create tension and manipulate the pacing of the plot.

For science fiction, it’s worth doing a little Google, Wikipedia, and science magazine website digging to get a basic understanding of the distances between planets, solar systems, and galaxies – and, how long it takes to travel between them in lightyears. Keep a list of every space station, planet, and outpost, and their distances from each other.

We can talk about warp engines and wormholes all we want in science fiction, but we need to keep it consistent. If we get our characters into a situation where the only way out is to go to warp 10, but the scale only goes up to warp 9.9 (looking at you, TNG *wink*), then, we can’t just wave a magic wand and have the raven-haired, emerald-eyed, 22-year-old engineering ensign with a tragic past suddenly come up with a way to achieve warp 10. 

This is a direct violation of Lamb’s Law of Coincidences: You can use all the coincidences you want to get characters into trouble, but you can never use it to get them out of it.

In fantasy, the same rules apply. I would even go so far as to draw what I like to call a “stick-figure map.” That’s a polite way of saying a bunch of blobs and dots on a piece of paper with arrows between the dots indicating distances between cities, kingdoms, continents, etc.

Magical transport needs rules, just like sci-fi transport. Treat dragons like horses: how fast can they fly, for how long, are there different types of dragons that go at different speeds?

Personally, all my dragons come with a V8 standard.

Polite nothings about the roads and the weather.

Conflict! 😀
Just like it’s natural for us to complain about traffic, tell stories of bad flights, or share information about how to get to a certain location and how long it will take, characters talk about distance and travel, too.

“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

 

In this example from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, distance and travel are used to highlight the differences between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s wealth, social status, and character. It’s just one of the many brilliant examples of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s another post for another time.

When I was writing a scene about the journey of one of the characters in Kristen’s and my zombie western, I did spend more time – probably close to an hour – learning about railroad journeys from the East Coast to Arizona territory in the 1870’s-1890’s. This was much more involved for several reasons.

First, based on the exact year we are using, I needed to find out just how far the westward railroad expansion went. I discovered that while there was service to California already, the first tendrils of track had just begun to breach the borders of Arizona.

Therefore, the character would have had to end his rail journey a good 200 miles from his destination and take a stagecoach the rest of the way.

The time I spent researching this was not wasted, and not just for the fact that I was assuring that my facts were correct (socking it to the trolls!), but I realized how much this particular journey would represent abandoning civilization for the character, and it also gave me an opportunity to add in a hint of backstory for his relationship with another character whom he meets at a hotel in Denver when he is making arrangements for the next stage of his journey.

The failure, shortcomings, and limits of transportation provide us with fantastic tools for ratcheting up the tension.

Not to bring up bad memories of math class for many of us, but if character A is 60 miles away and trapped with a bomb set to go off in an hour, and character B can only travel 30 miles-per hour, what is going to happen to character A? (Leave your answers in the comments! Bonus points for creativity and flash fiction LOL.)

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I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Peeling Away the Flaws: Self-Editing in Layers. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 30, 2017, 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday, which today means, not just me, Cait Reynolds, but also Kim Alexander! Today, we begin by not only sharing the obligatory Denny Basenji picture, but also ONION! Because who doesn’t need more Onion in their lives? RIGHT?

Denny and Onion. Together at last.

Kim recently came to visit me (okay, she came to visit her brother, but I live in the same state), and we indulged in various shenanigans. Thankfully, none of which resulted in either of us needing bail money. But it is always within the realm of possibilities.

We decided that since have…er…taken up residence on Kristen’s blog and are teaching classes together, it would be good for everyone to know a bit more about us. So, today is a fun post with a Q&A.

So how do you two know each other, anyway?

Kim: We had the same publicist at a now-defunct publishing house! So we spent a lot of time drying each other’s tears. Cait used to like to prank call and pretend she was the New York Times book reviewer, it really brought up my spirits.

Cait: I pretty much knew we were soulmates when she sent me a mug that says, “We go together like drunk and disorderly.” Add in trips to see each other, questionable plans for larceny at Book Expo America every year, and a mutual love of the distillery industry, and well…yeah.

Out on the town. Together. Not committing felonies. At least, none that were detectable.

In a Thunderdome-style-loser-leave-town cage match, who do you see coming out as the victor?

Kim: Well, I’m scrappy, but she’s a lot more aggressive, and she fights dirty. On the other hand, I do store up my rage, and I have a lot stored up.

Cait: I’m just gonna come out and say it. Me. I would win. Don’t let my innocent looks and sunny attitude fool you. I’m a tough OG. I ran a playground gang in second grade.

What’s your favorite historical period to obsess over and why?

Kim: I am all about Dark Ages Europe. If there is the word ‘plague’ in the blurb, I will read it. It was a time (I think) that the walls between the real and unreal were much thinner–maybe because we had far fewer distractions, and life was so uncertain.

Cait: Really? I have to pick one? Whatever! Nobody puts Baby in a corner! I’m going to say France from 1600-1900. That’s right. Multiple time periods. *mic drop.*

What is the name of your pet and what do you actually call said pet?

Kim: Onion is his government name, but we call him Mr. Handsomeness Man, Squeakzilla, My Real Boyfriend, Big Sexy, and Bubba. (He answers to none of the above.)

Cait: Denny Basenji must live with the indignity of being called Bobenny, Smuppy Puppy, Lil’ Poopie, Booberry Banana Face Baby Butt, and Denny M’boops (dictator of a small African country in his mind). He is giving me side eye even as I type this. Oh, and did you know that Kim has a fish? I nearly asphyxiated when I saw this the first time.

What do you think you’d be good at despite having no evidence at all to back you up?

Kim: I feel like I could be excellent at roller derby. I’m low to the ground and I’m good at fighting my way through crowds. Plus, they have cool nicknames, and I am seriously in the market for a nickname.

Cait: I have seriously been worrying about this question for days. Every time I came up with something, I rationalized how I could manufacture evidence to back up my claim. Therefore, I have decided that I would be good at the following: Mars colonist. I’m totally creative and manipulative, and I would have all the other colonists working hard to make sure I survived.

Why do you write fantasy/epic/para/romantic/tentacle?

Kim: I’m much more interested in relationships than battles, so epic fantasy might not be an obvious fit for me. But I am addicted to world building, particularly when it comes to clothing, food, color, jewelry, manners–the things we surround ourselves with that inform who we are. I love the idea of seeing our world through fresh eyes, which my main character gets to do. Also magic!

Cait: I love exploring what it takes to push a character over the edge of disbelief to belief, whether it’s in the paranormal, magic, or the fact that you deserve to be loved. I am fascinated with the transformative power of love in all its forms, from romantic to learning to love yourself.

Our books. You can find them on the “Books” page of this blog!

Tell me about your main character. This will be a startling insight into your personality.

Kim: Are you implying I am a half human/half demon prince who masks his social anxiety with alcohol?

Cait: Well, based on the zombie western Kristen and I are writing, I would have to say there is a bit of me in the 19th century Parisian debutante with social anxiety and agoraphobia, the battle-weary Prussian doctor who is a militant pacifist (because he likes irony), and the sheer cussedness of Zeke the goat.

What can people expect from taking your Fantasy World-Building Classes?

Kim: From me, you’ll learn the value of staring out the window. Not kidding! Most of my worlds are completely invented, so where I do my hardest work is thinking things through. We’ll talk about the stuff that may not immediately occur to you when you sit down to write. Cait has a very different method of approaching her work, which I guess is valid, whatever.

Cait: Kim stares out the window. I’ve literally seen her do it. For me, you’d find me going down a research rabbit hole or making orderly lists and notes of things in my world. That’s how I’ve come to specialize in giving the improbable a hint of the possible, which is what doesn’t just immerse a reader into your world, but pretty much gives them concrete boots and tosses them in the literary east river.

Our three-class bundle. You can also sign up for each class individually, but hey, don’t you WANT all the Cait & Kim you can get?

When you strike it rich and get that JK Rowling theme park money, where will you be found?

Kim: Railay Beach in Thailand. Third hut from the left.

Cait: Venice. In my palazzo. Drinking really, really good espresso.

Desert island book?

Kim: The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which taught me everything I know about writing fantasy, and writing in general.

Cait: The Complete Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson. And, I’d probably try to sneak in my “Life with Jeeves” omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse. Because the storytelling, characterization, and use of language is so masterful in these books, you find something new literally every time you read them.

Building a Better Fantasy World, from Planets to Partying

Kim and I have a lot to say about what goes into creating a fantasy culture. So much, in fact, that we had to break it into three classes, and we are STILL leaving stuff out (though, we’ll probably teach those in October). Anyway, here are some descriptions of the classes for you!


FROM THE GROUND UP: PUTTING THE ‘WORLD’ IN WORLD-BUILDING FOR FANTASY

Instructors: Cait Reynolds and Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

So, you’re writing a fantasy novel. That’s great! But before you put the first spell in the Mage’s mouth or the first sword in the princess’s hand, you have to stop, drop, and roll around in the geography of your bold new world. After all, the better you know the lay of the land, the more at home your readers will be.

This class will look at what goes into the world (literally) beneath your character’s feet. Topics include:

  • Distance: you can get there from here, but how long will it take?
  • How’s the weather?
  • Making maps work for you: where do you put the mountains?
  • What’s for sale? Import, export and commodity.
  • Portals, Doors, dimensions and realms–pick one (or more!).

GETTING TO WORK: PROFESSIONS, POLITICS, AND PRODUCTION IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 20, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

If you’re working on a fantasy novel, chances are you’ve already decided what the ‘feel’ of your universe will be. This class will help you turn that feeling into a working, fleshed out civilization.

Before we’re done, you’ll know where your world stands in technological advances, what everyone does for a living, and how they get to work every day.

From the wench in the pub to the backup janitor who cleans the jump-drive, everyone’s got to have a gig.

Topics include:

  • Bronze, stone, atom, or magic? Level up!
  • What do you do all day? Putting your characters to work.
  • How did you get here? From feet to flying cars (or monkeys), pick a ride.
  • Do you take plastic? Economics beyond ye olde marketplace.

ROMPS AND REVELS: ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE, AND CULTURE IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 27, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

When a bunch of characters get together, the first thing they’ll do (after slaying the dragon/alien/Elder God) is want to kick back. It’s human(ish) nature!

So let’s explore what the denizens of your fantasy world do on their free time. It can be the serious business of organized religion to the even more serious business of sporting events, to the most serious thing of all–fashion.

In this class, we’ll find out what your characters are reading, what they’re eating, and which team they’re rooting for. Topics include:

  • Celebrity and pop culture – who are the Biebers and Beatles of the world? Why is it important?
  • Ceremony and ritual – religious and/or secular celebrations.
  • What fashion dictates – what your shoes say about you.
  • What is the equivalent of chocolate cake and champagne in your fantasy world, and who gets the first slice?

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Peeling Away the Flaws: Self-Editing in Layers. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 30, 2017, 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!

 

Well, it’s the last day of me, Cait Reynolds, playing “king of the hill” on Kristen’s blog. In honor of this fact, I’d like to begin today’s post by listing out the top five reasons Kristen could be denied re-entry into the United States.

Image courtesy of travelinspiration.com

1. US Customs does not allow you to bring foreign livestock into the country. Kristen coming back counts as Lamb from New Zealand.

2. Kristen mentioned she was suffering from allergies due to pine pollen in New Zealand. This probably counts as smuggling in biological warfare agents.

3. Kristen did not get to see any hobbits. This will trigger a secondary scan of her passport because who doesn’t go to New Zealand and SEE HOBBITS??? Shady AF, if you ask me.

4. The TSA might interpret Kristen’s attempt at the haka as threatening government officials. Or deeply disturbing. Maybe both.

5. Finally, Kristen is coming back full of ideas. This is CLEARLY a threat to national security and must be neutralized immediately. In other words, by sending her back to (some really remote part of) New Zealand where her ideas can’t do much harm.

Maybe I’m just not ready to give this blog back to her. At the very least, you’ll still get to see me on Squatter’s Rights Wednesdays and in my classes. And who knows? Maybe Kristen will travel again (i.e. PLEASE SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD, INVITE KRISTEN TO VISIT!).

To round off my brief stint of world domination, er, substitute blogging, I give you Kim Alexander, here to talk to us about more stuff and things…but mostly stuff.

Frosting, the Snowman…er…Frosty…

Last week we talked about the power of imaginary books – books that characters in novels talk about and read, but don’t really exist.

These imaginary books are a great way to comment on the action taking place in your actual plot, along with a good place to lay down a thick, velvety layer of exposition. So let’s spend some time thinking about imaginary holidays, another excellent place to evenly spread your exposition, taking care that it doesn’t drip down the sides. (I may be watching a lot of the Great British Bakeoff and I’m deeply concerned about a soggy bottom…aren’t we all?)

Only 123 days ‘til Festivus!

Because you’re a person who lives in this world/dimension, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Festivus, of course, is the invented holiday ‘celebrated’ by George Costanza’s family (and my family, and maybe yours) originally seen on Seinfeld. If I’m honest, though, we enjoy the Sharing of the Grievances all the year ‘round! (It’s December 23rd this year, get the pole ready.)

Invented holidays can come early in your drafts – that is to say, you can decide to throw a party without having all the details of the reason for the party mapped out. That said, eventually you’ll have to answer some questions about secular vs. religious events and what that means for the story at large.

At this point, I suppose it must be said that all holidays are imaginary, in that someone, somewhere thought them up and told their buddies they had a great idea for a day off.

Let’s look at Christmas, for instance. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it’s a state-sponsored consumerist event or a solemn religious occasion, we all know a lot of things associated with Christmas. How much are just things we talk and sing about because we always have? (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a secular Jew who has been collecting glass tree ornaments for many years and LIVES for the day we bring our tree home. Life is a rich tapestry!)

Santa is an elf, right (let’s ignore the whole bit about being a saint for the moment)? But he’s also normal person-sized. And he comes down the chimney. And flying reindeer. And the colors red and green. And turkey, even though we just had it a month prior. Why? Why do we drag trees into our houses? Why would anyone bring myrrh to a manger? What is myrrh? (A few minutes of googling should answer those questions, and also point you in the direction of the sorts of questions you’ll need to ask yourself.)

So if you take a step back and look at Christmas through the lens of writing a fantasy world, you can see it takes up a huge amount of space not only on the calendar (I saw my first ad this week, deep in the lurid heart of August) but in our emotional lives. We all have to make a decision on how to react to the holiday season: celebrate, ignore, mock, love, hate. Even if we consciously avoid it, it’s still making a mark on our behavior. Obviously, your fantasy holiday doesn’t have to have the enormous resonance of the triumvirate of terror that make up Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s, but if you’re bothering to create it, make it have some impact. (I did not include Chanukah because it is awesome and includes fire.)

Caturnalia (hey, it could work!)

Okay, so you’re having a party. It’s in the draft and written on a post-it note. Now it’s time to take a step back and ask what sort of event it will be. This is your chance to shine a light on your created culture and bounce your characters against each other, which is where the fun happens.

Leeloo and Onion would like to propose the holiday of “Caturnalia.” It involves tuna.

What gets your society together? Did they win a war or crown a ruler? Is it a religious event, or is your society a secular one? (Remember that a society is rarely a monoculture while you’re making these decisions.) What about your party? Is it a solemn occasion, or an excuse to drink and dance? Maybe they celebrate writing a song, or the color blue, or cats. (That sounds like a pretty good idea, actually.) You get to dress your characters up and send them to parties, and they either live it up or bitch about being forced to attend – or both.

In my book The Sand Prince, the human world celebrates something called The Quarter Moons Party (they have two moons.) It’s a combination of Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, and it celebrates a great victory and the continued safety of their home city of Mistra. Victory over whom? No one really remembers, and the songs they sing only vaguely allude to ‘locking The Door.’ Everyone wears white and there are special treats you only get once a year. Why? It’s always been that way.

The demons of Eriis who live on the other side of that Door remember it very differently, and when one of them visits the human world, he takes great offense at all the celebration. (He’ll probably appreciate the open bar, though.) Like everything else, an invented holiday is really just another way to explore your characters reactions to each other and to the world around them.

So whether you celebrate Durin’s Day, or First Contact Day, or save up your grievances for Festivus, or are writing up the grocery list for the Labor Day cookout, have a safe and happy one!

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening and waiting on her cats.

?Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned. http://kimalexanderonline.com

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For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes (No Safe Words Here). $45.00 USD. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Painting With Words: Using Description and Sensory Details. $40.00 USD. Saturday, Monday, October 9, 2017. 7:00-7:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Social Media for Writers. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 21, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Blurb Writing Blows - But, It Doesn’t Have To. $45.00 USD. Friday, September 22, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
When Your Name Alone Can Sell: Branding for Authors. $35.00 USD. Thursday, September 28, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Peeling Away the Flaws: Self-Editing in Layers. $40.00 USD. Saturday, September 30, 2017, 2:00-4:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bullies and Baddies - Understanding the Antagonist. $50.00 USD. Tuesday, October 3, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. Click the image to register!

OhmygoshitisWednesdayandthatmeansitistimeforMEEEEE!!!!! In other words, it’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, I’m going to talk about the fact that there is nothing new under the sun.

And, by that, I mean that every variation of story has been told before. Every culture from every time period has its version of Cinderella, its Aladdin or Jack, its greedy kings and tricky old witches. No matter how many magical mice, talking mirrors, or transportation-challenged pumpkins dress up the tale, every story has at its heart the most basic, most fundamental truths about the human condition and human relationships.

Denny Basenji doing his imitation of a wise crone. His cryptic advice to the hero/heroine: “Only peanut butter can help you now.”

Myths and fairytales appeal to our innocence, our belief in justice, and our sense of history. The fact that most of them have happy endings doesn’t hurt, either. The past two years have seen a kind of renaissance in retellings and modern interpretations of these classic stories. A handful have been very well done. The rest have been inconsistent efforts that show very little thought and research has been put into understanding the nature of both mythology and fairytales and how to translate them into contemporary settings.

Celebrity Death Match: Myths vs. Fairytales

So, is there a difference between the two?

Absolutely, and it goes beyond their definitions. But, let’s start with definitions for the sake of clarity.

From merriam-webster.com:

Fairytale:

  • a story (as for children) involving fantastic forces and beings (such as fairies, wizards, and goblins)
  • a story in which improbable events lead to a happy ending

Myth

  • a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon
  • parable, allegory
  • a popular belief or tradition that has grown up around something or someone

Here are some other differences between fairytales and myths:

  • Myths are not obligated to have a happy ending;
  • Fairytales do not have to have a moral or philosophical agenda;
  • Myths are often closely tied to world creation stories, religion, and attempts to explain natural phenomenon prior to scientific understanding;
  • It is understood that fairytales have never been believed to be real, whereas myths were frequently accepted as fact.

There are more differences and finer distinctions, but I’ll just add in one more. You can always tell it’s a real fairytale because people/animals/magical creatures are cheerful and sing when doing housework.

Research is a Myth…or is it a Fairytale?

Okay, so say we have this great idea retelling ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ We’ve seen the Disney movies, and we are happily humming ‘Be our Guest’ as we open the blank Word document. We know the story cold, and we may or may not have a picture of Luke Evans as Gaston tucked away on Pinterest.

We are ready to start writing. Except, we aren’t.

If all we are doing is using the movie as our guide, we have missed out on the fact that the historical fairytale has variations that include a father who was a merchant, a sudden loss of fortune, two wicked sisters, and a pretty sharp lesson about the costs of indecision and not keeping your word. If we haven’t done any research, we wouldn’t know that the the fairytale actually has origins (at least in Western culture) in the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche, or that another lesser-known fairytale – ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ – spun out from that myth.

It may seem silly to do research on something that is fundamentally untrue and is by nature fluid and adaptable to time period and culture. Yet, without knowing about the people who wrote the stories, the system of beliefs that the myths came from, and the history of the time when a particular variation was recorded, we are losing out on a chance to delve into subtleties, textures, interpretations, and details that take a retelling from blasé to blazing.

One of the topics I cover in my Once Upon a Plot class is how to go about researching a myth or fairytale, what to pursue, what to set aside, and how to analyze the story in a more complex, contextual way.

World-Building for ‘Then’ and ‘Now’

When we do a retelling, one of the first things we have to decide is the setting. Will it be contemporary? Will it be historical? Will it be futuristic, steampunk, or some medieval-ish time?

This impacts what characters we decide to use, the deeper intricacies and devices of the plot, and the way we represent significant objects from the myth or fairytale (is that a pumpkin or a Porsche?). This is also, sadly, where most writers tend to take short-cuts. They use the generic ‘faux-medieval’ setting that is a haphazard mishmash of culture, technology, and clothing, or they set the tale in today’s world, not really thinking through the implications for characters, decisions, and objects.

A lot of writers use the ‘timeless’ setting in order to avoid doing historical research or any real world-building. Ideas for behavior, costumes, servants, food, castles come from whatever historical drama is on at the time (I’m looking at you, ‘Reign,’ ‘The Tudors,’ ‘The White Queen,’ and ‘The Borgias’). While those medieval-renaissance-ish shows do provide a lot of striking visuals and demonstrate how to make archaic-sounding dialogue accessible to modern listeners/readers, they are NOT to be used for world-building. Ever.

Even for fairytales and myths.

As writers, we are responsible for creating our own worlds, and it is our obligation to the reader to provide a setting that is detailed, well thought-out, and consistent.

Here are just a few of the questions writers should ask when picking a ‘timeless’ setting:

  • What is the level of technology, industry, medicine, and transportation?
  • What is the political structure of the ‘kingdom’?
  • What kind of social mobility or stratification exists within the ‘kingdom’?
  • What is the kingdom’s primary religion? Are there secondary religions? Competing or conflicting faiths? Holidays and celebrations?
  • What is the geography, geology, and climate?
  • What is the overall cultural feel (i.e. generic British, generic Scandinavian, generic Central European, generic Mediterranean?)

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for a timeless setting. If we choose a contemporary setting, that brings a whole other set of issues into consideration, including normalizing any magical abilities within a greater social context, secrets vs. open practices, modern equivalents of historical objects or accessories, and how to maintain a character’s original attitude, purpose, and decisions while grounding him or her realistically in the here-and-now.

Bibbity Bobbity BOOYAH

You guessed it. I’m teaching a class on this very topic. All the details below!

Once Upon a Plot: Retelling Myths & Fairytales

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45 USD Standard

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: WEDNESDAY, August 9, 2017, 7:00 p.m. EST – 9:00 p.m. EST

Myths and fairytales are as fundamental to human existence as communication itself. We grow up hearing these stories, being formed by them, and often rebelling against them.

One of the hottest trends in publishing right now is bringing these stories back and giving them new life with creative interpretations and retellings. Done right, a retelling can capture the public imagination, give us new insights into our society and ourselves, and sweep us away to a time and place where everything, including justice and happy endings, is possible.

Done wrong? A retelling is nothing more than a yawn-worthy yarn full of two-dimensional characters floundering through an unremarkable story with a bland, generic setting.

This class will cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • How to research a myth or fairytale, from origins to variations;
  • How to analyze in order to develop a deeper, richer understanding of the stories;
  • How to pick out the key elements, from characters and attitudes, to objects and settings;
  • Creating contemporary settings for retellings that are accurate, believable, and flexible enough to accommodate ‘magic’;
  • Creating ‘timeless’ settings that are unique, consistent, and immersive.

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

GOLD PACKAGE

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story.

PLATINUM PACKAGE

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

REGISTER NOW!

About the Instructor

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. 

 

 

****And MAKE SURE to check out the classes below and sign up! Summer school! YAY! We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! So scroll down and sign up!

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

 

Gaskets and Gaiters: How to Create a Compelling Steampunk World August 11th $45 w/ Cait Reynolds 

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Baby It’s Hot in Here—Writing Erotica & High Heat Sex Scenes August 4th $45 General/ $90 GOLD/$150 Platinum

Classes with MOI!

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Elements of Literary—How to Write Character-Driven Stories August 3rd $40

Beyond Planet X, Monsters & Chainsaws–Mastering Speculative Fiction August 10th $35

Classes with Award-Winning Author Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40

Method Acting for Writers—How to Write Deep POV August 1st $85 (two-week intensive class & lifetime access)

Beyond Lipstick & Swords—Writing Strong Female Characters September 9th $40

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! I’m back, along with Denny Basenji, opinions on words, and a new haircut.

Also, I do know that I owe everyone my freshman year high school photo. I will post that on Friday. *pinky swear*

So, today, I’m talking about world-building for epic fantasy and science fiction. Of course, there are specifics to each genre that could merit their own blog post (and will eventually get their own blog posts), but for today, I want to talk about what they both have in common, especially when it comes to creating a world that is paradoxically both alien and familiar, comfortable and unpredictable, and just as human as you or I – tentacles notwithstanding.

Two Peas in an Alien Pod

Why are epic fantasy and science fiction similar, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most fundamental problem both face. It’s a misconception on the part of writers that regularly drives me to call upon the holy, withering powers of the Red Pen of Wrath.

 

The problem is this: a premise is not a plot.

I am just as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. I would get the coolest idea for an epic fantasy story with dragons, or a magical sword, or…or…a shy, downtrodden young girl who comes into her magical inheritance and has to save the world. Or, even worse…a space opera or an oppressive alien society bent on conquering a post-apocalyptic Earth…

You get the idea. And, that’s all it is. An idea. It’s a premise, a setting, the faintest concept sketch of a backdrop. It is not a plot. While the plot and characters are shaped by the world we build, we must first have a firm idea of the actual story we want to tell before we go indulging in literal flights of fantasy.

The best, most enduring, and most powerful epic fantasy and science fiction tell stories that are rooted in deep philosophical and ethical questions about how humanity (no matter what the species “we” are in the story) makes choices when pushed at warp speed into a magical corner.

A premise is great, but what is the burning reason why we need to write this story using this setting? If we can answer this question, then we are on the right track and are good to keep going with our world-building.

Culture Shock

Let’s just put it out there from the get-go.

Fantasy that uses the ‘faux medieval fallback’ is lame. Worse, it’s lazy, and I am not going to waste the precious hours of my life reading that crap. If an author can’t be bothered to build a world that goes beyond throwing in some Lord-of-the-Rings-style magic into ‘The Princess Bride,’ then, I can’t be bothered with his or her book.

Science fiction that so blatantly ignores human nature is also lame to the point where it can undermine the believability of an entire premise. For example – and yes, this is going to be controversial, and don’t flame me if I got it wrong because this is based on a memory from years and years and years ago – when I was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard said that we had evolved beyond the need for money, I laughed. And then, I got mad. Seriously??? I don’t care if it’s dollars or hotel points on Risa, you cannot convince me that given the nature of the personal and psychological problems the TNG cast dealt with demonstrated that humanity had evolved beyond our basic competitive biological nature. We would need some serious genetic rewiring in order to let go of our need to gather and accumulate resources. When I could forget that little issue, sure, the whole premise was great. When I couldn’t? It was like a bad itch with no ideological cortisone to hand.

The absence of technology does not mean a society has to be simplistic with two-dimensional characters like the mustache-twirling villain or the reluctant young hero with chronic self-esteem issues. Conversely, the presence of technology doesn’t automatically cancel out all of society’s more complex, sticky social issues.

Good world-building in these genres should be an uncomfortable process. It should poke and prod at the difficult questions we tend to avoid on an everyday basis. We know we are doing it right when we feel a kind of culture shock, just like when we wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a strange hotel room on the first night of a trip to a foreign country. Sure, it’s a bed and a room, but something about it just feels fundamentally different, no matter how much it is the same.

The More Things Change

When we are creating a future or fantasy world, we obviously have to cover all the bases of politics, religion, education, economics, industry, regionality, food, etc. It’s the kind of exercise in thinking, imagination, and logic that forces us to play every idea six moves out to see if it still works and what else it might effect. However, almost more important than the differences we create are the similarities that we keep.

Not everything needs to be changed and/or renamed. That’s not world-building. That’s complication, not complexity. It’s also the biggest and easiest trap for us to fall into.

A world that is over-complicated and needlessly different puts and keeps distance between the story and the reader, and that’s not even dipping a scaly alien toe into the issues of character development.

So, how do we determine what needs to be changed? Some of it comes from the necessities of the plot, and some of if comes from the implications of physical realities of the setting itself (Dune is a great example of this). At the end of the day, though, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions every time we want to change something:

  • Is it relevant to shaping the character’s personality, motivations, and decisions?
  • Is it necessary to the plot on a macro or micro level as a source of conflict?
  • Can it be used as a stressor to up the tension or accelerate the pace?
The Sand Prince by Kim Alexander

One of the absolutely best examples of this that I have recently read is Kim Alexander’s The Sand Prince. It’s not just epic fantasy and an astoundingly exquisite example of world-building. It’s a riveting, meaningful story with characters I identify with and have come to care about deeply. If you read it (and you should), look at the way she uses food and colors to drive home desperation, hopelessness, anger, and stress. That’s just one small way she uses details to up the stakes for her characters and relentlessly drive the story toward its riveting climax.

And on the Seventh Day, Cait Taught a Class

If you’re feeling exhausted and perhaps even a little overwhelmed by this post, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Even God needed to rest on the seventh day, proving once again that world-building is hard.

However, even God had a system for creation, and I am teaching a tiny, pale version of that on Friday, July 28, 2017 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Class Title: Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 28th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy are the double agents of the literary world. They simultaneously provide exotic escapism while at the same time serving as a ruthless mirror of contemporary society.

Whether it’s magic or technology, these genres bend rules and toy with the impossible.

However, it is also perilously easy to fall into the trap of bending every rule to make it easy for yourself, your plot, and your characters. When the fantastic becomes too fantastical, your world begins to lose its magic, and readers begin to distance themselves from the emotional impact of the actual story.

This class will cover a wide range of topics, including:

– Etymology: If you are going to make up names for people, places, food, customs, magic/technology, etc., you need to understand the fundamental rules of creating language.

– What’s normal and carries over from our world/time and doesn’t need description vs what is different and should be described

– How much magic or science do you have to know in order to build your world effectively?

– How to keep it real: tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants.

– Spotting tired tropes and DOING BETTER. Make your fiction unique. No retreads! “Oh no, not another young, timid girl who becomes magical/laser-wielding social warrior!”

In a world of a gazillion forgettable fantasies and sci-fi stories, let Cait help you take your WORLD & STORY to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. When world building is done right? Fans will be BEGGING to do fan fiction with the worlds you create.

World Building GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

World Building PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

Register Here!

***

For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40