Setting and World Building | Elements of a Novel – Part 3

Elements of a Novel: Setting and world buildingWelcome to Part Three of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re focusing on setting and world building! (ICYMI, here are the links to Part One: Creating Characters and Part Two: Choosing a Plot Structure.)

This is the last element we’re going to talk about before we start moving through the general structure of a novel. This post is going to look at the role setting and world play in your story, the difference between them, and the specifics of what you might want to consider developing within each.

Let’s get started!

How does Setting and World Building inform your story?

The setting and world play a role in creating the feel and backdrop for your story. For example, books that are set in big cities often feel very different than books that are set in small towns. And books that are set in mystical fantasy lands feel very different than books set in this real and modern world.

World and setting also play a role in what events can and can’t happen in your story. For example, if you set your story in modern Florida, it wouldn’t make sense for a series of snowstorms to occur in your story because snow in that region is pretty rare. However, if you set your book in the Northeast, that would be more believable. Similarly, you couldn’t write a story set in modern times in the modern world with trolls and elves as co-workers for your character because we don’t have trolls and elves in this world. However, with some world building, you can create a new reality for your story to exist in.

Setting

What is setting?

Setting is where your story takes place. You can set your story in a real place that already exists or you can use world building to create a setting. (More on that later.) Setting includes both the time and physical spaces your story takes place in.

What do you need to develop in setting?

Even if you’re not using world building to create a setting from scratch, you’ll likely need to consider and develop several aspects of your setting. The specifics of what you need to develop will be unique to your story, but here are the key elements that will likely be true for everyone.

When your story takes place

When your story takes place is important for both historical and practical purposes. Historically, you need to know what current events are happening at the time of your story. This will help you to create a real and vivid world. If you’re setting your book in the U.S. in the late 1800s, that’s the gilded age. What does that mean for your characters? Practically, the “when” of your story will also dictate the level of technological and social development in your story. This will inform what can and can’t happen to your characters. If you’re setting it in the 1970s, consider the available technology. It would make sense for your characters to get their news from the TV, but if your book were set in the 1930s, the radio would be more common.

Your main character’s home base

Where is your main character’s home base? This includes both the city or town they live in and the building they spend most of their time in. This home base may or may not be your character’s “home.” For example, in the early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the home base for the core group of characters was the school’s library. It was the only place in town that had the information the characters needed to access on a regular basis and was safe for the characters to meet discuss the latest supernatural threat. Your characters will likely need their own regular, safe meet up spot. It can be your main character’s actual home, but it doesn’t have to be.

 The places your characters frequent

Home base may be your most used location, but it’s unlikely that your characters will stay cooped up in one place for the entire length of your story. So in addition to your character’s home base, there will be a handful of places your characters will frequent that you will need to create. This can include where they work, go to school, eat, have fun, and visit with friend and family. A good example is Gilmore Girls. In this case, I would say that the Gilmore home is home base, but Lorelai and Rory also regularly spend time at Luke’s Diner, The Inn where Lorelai works, Chilton where Rory goes to school, and Lorelai’s parents’ house, to name a few. Developing key locations will go along way in creating a real and believable setting for your story. You can use some light world building to create these locations like the creators of Gilmore Girls or can use places that exist in real life.

Towns, cities, and countries your characters live in and visit

You also need to develop or research any town/city/country your characters live in and visit. Even if your character isn’t there for that long, you need to be able to give a decent description and feel of the location. It’s also important to give your readers a sense of where they are in the world, so be sure to at least mention where the town/city and country your story is taking place in. It always helps to visit a location if you’re going to write about it, but if you can’t, try using Google Maps. Here’s a post on how I use Google Maps to help with my setting!

Note

If you’re setting your story in a historical time period or a setting you’re unfamiliar with, be sure to do your research! You may not get everything right, but do your best anyway. Glaring inaccuracies can become distractions and take your reader out of the story.

World Building

What is World Building?

World building is when you create the locations and city/towns/countries/worlds your story is set it. Every story will likely need some level of world building, but the extent will depend on where and when your story is set.

What do you need to develop in World Building?

How much you need to develop will depend on how close you want your story to stick to reality. If you’re setting your book in this modern world, you may only need some light world building. If you’re writing a high-fantasy, Lord of the Rings style, you’ll need heavier world building. Below, we’re going to look at the different levels of world building and the rough areas to consider in each level. For a detailed list of elements to develop for fictional and fantasy worlds, check out this post!

Light World Building

Light World Building is for when you’re setting a story in this world, but you don’t want to rely on real places and location. So instead, you create your own. Going back to the Gilmore Girls example, that show is a good instance light world building. The town of Stars Hollow doesn’t really exist, but small towns like it do. Luke’s Diner doesn’t really exist, but diners like it do. Most books, shows, and movies use light world building to create the setting and environment for their characters.

Relying on real places can become tedious. They constantly evolve and you may find that some aspect of the real world location just doesn’t fit your story as you need it to. Using light world building to create locations very similar to the ones we have in the real world give you flexibility as a writer, while still grounding your story in a world your reader is used to. I used light world building for my books. If you want more on this, I did a post on how to create a fictional world within our own.

Medium World Building

I consider medium world building to be any story that uses magical, mystical, science fiction, or similar elements in this world. Stories like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Timeless, Superman, etc, all have outlandish fictional elements that had to be created and built to fit into this world. The setting and/or natural laws of these stories are slightly different than our reality, but they’re still set in this world. In this case, it’s important to develop and explain what makes your character’s world different from ours. If there are supernatural or magical elements, those need to be developed in a way that makes sense with the world we live in. These elements and other magical aspects will also need their own history and origin stories. And because you’re still setting the story in this world, it’s important that the elements you’re creating believably work with the laws and circumstances of our world.

Heavy World Building

Heavy World Building is where you have to create a completely different world for your story. This includes whole countries with maps, races, magical elements, etc. This kind of world building is most common in fantasies like Lord of the Rings, Throne of Glass, and Game of Thrones. These stories are not set in this world that we live in and had to be created completely from scratch. There is also a more science fiction aspect to heavy world building that can include any story set in other planets or in outer space, like Firefly. In these cases, the worlds, planets, and systems need to be completely created. They are often removed enough from our world that maps need to be drawn and they’re different enough from the world we live in to need significant development.

Note:

These distinctions are just guidelines, you might fall somewhere in between. For example, I would consider Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments series to fall between medium and heavy world building. They both have a fictional magic world, but it’s a subset of this world. So a whole new world with maps didn’t need to be created like in a Lord of the Rings style fantasy, but the interworkings and locations of the magical worlds did need to be created from scratch.

I hope this helps you with your setting and world building!

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about when you’re first creating your setting? What about world building? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

15 Writing Tips to Create Awesome Characters

Create Awesome CharactersIf you’re like most writers, it’s a priority to create awesome characters for your novels. Creating awesome characters means your readers will connect with the people you’re writing about, which ultimately means they will connect with your story.

With that in mind, here are fifteen tips to think about on your quest to create awesome characters!

1) Know the defining moments of their past

We all have moments that help to shape us. These moments include triumphs, failures, gains, and losses. Be sure to give your characters these types of moments. Did they lose someone close to them at a young age? How does that impact them? Did they experience some kind of victory early in their career? Has that moment motivated them to chase that feeling of success? Creating defining moments like this will help your reader to relate and connect to your characters because they too will have experienced similar moments in their own lives.

2) Develop their key and defining relationships

Our relationships also play a massive role in making us who we are. Knowing your characters’ parents, siblings, best friends, etc, and the relationship your character had with each of those people will inform who your character has become. If any key relationships are missing from your character’s life, that can be just as important and play just as much of a role in their development. This element also adds another layer for your readers to connect with. If you’d like some help with this, check out this post on creating key relationships!

3) Give them values

People have beliefs! Your characters should too. It’s important to know what your characters stand for and believe in because it will dictate the decisions they make throughout the story. It will also help you create some kind of consistency. For example, if you decide your main character strongly values honesty, they are likely to be honest (maybe painfully so) about what they think and feel. It also means that being lied to would be seen a deep betrayal and could result in a broken relationship. Whereas if you have a character who values kindness above all else, they may be more likely to tell a white lie to protect someone from an ugly truth.

4) Give then quirks

Some people are more quirky than others, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone has a few oddities in them. Giving your character a quirk is likely to both endear your character to your reader and make them more relatable. When you develop this aspect of your character, consider both behavioral and preference quirks. For example, maybe your character has a habit of drumming their fingers when they’re anxious. Or maybe they hate the texture of frozen yogurt. Even if the reader doesn’t have the same quirk, it’s likely that they’ll connect to their own oddity and appreciate your character’s uniqueness.

5) Give them motivation and direction

What gets your character out of bed in the morning? What do they want (both physically and in life)? Even if your character is a little lost, there has to be something that keeps them moving forward. We’re all working for something, even if there are points in our life when all we really want to figure out what we want and what we’re good at. That desire to find our way is still motivation for life. This will give your character a direction, which will inform your story and give your readers something to root for.

6) Give them vices and flaws

No body’s perfect. We all have ways of coping with stressful situations (like eating way too much mac and cheese). And we all have less than ideal qualities (like being stubborn). It can be hard for your readers to connect with a character who is too perfect because that’s simply unrealistic. No matter how heroic your hero is, they should still have flaws and vices to keep them realistic and accessible.

7) Add some of you

One of the easiest ways to bring your characters to life is to pull on your real life. Make it a point to give every character a little bit of yourself. If you love cheesy fries, give a character that love. If you hate riding a bike, give that to a character too. Adding a little bit of yourself into every character you create will help ground your characters. Not only that, it will help you connect better with your characters. In turn, this will make the characters more real and human to you, which will hopefully come through in your writing.

8) Give them obstacles to overcome

We all struggle from time to time. We all have to overcome our own obstacles. It’s hard to connect with a character who just sails through life. It also doesn’t give your readers much to root for or invest in. When your characters have an obstacle to navigate, it pulls your reader in and gives them a reason to care about your character.

9) Give them a personality test

One of the quickest ways to flesh out your character is to give them a personality test. This will likely bring up aspects of people that you hadn’t even thought to consider, which will add another layer of believability to your character. My favorite personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (here’s a whole post I did on using it for character creation), but you can use the Enneagram or any personality test you prefer.

10) Give them pain

Characters are more interesting when they suffer or when they have suffered in the past. This gives your readers something to empathize with. It also gives your characters something to grow from. Personally, when I find out a character is suffering or has suffered, I get so excited. It’s not because I enjoy their pain–it’s because I can’t wait to watch them fight to overcome the cause of their pain and come out on the other side stronger than they were when the got knocked down. Give your characters pain to make them stronger and more interesting.

11) Give them a human backstory

If you want your characters to be relatable, it’s important that your characters have a backstory that feels real and human. Even if you’re writing about aliens or superheroes, there should be elements of their backstory we can all relate to. Maybe they have (or have lost) parents. Maybe they struggled with others in school. Even if there are elements of their lives that are very different from ours, there should also be elements we can all connect with. This is especially true for your villains and bad guys. Having a human backstory won’t excuse your villain’s behavior, but it will help your readers understand how your character became who they are.

12) Give them lessons to learn and grow from

Lessons are part of growing up. Like we’ve already discussed, pain can force your character to grow, but that doesn’t have to be the only way they are shaped. Your character can experience gentler lessons just like people do in real life. Maybe they witness someone else’s pain and decide to help. Maybe they’re careless and accidentally send a mildly embarrassing email. Or maybe they’re struggling and receive good advice from a mentor. Giving your character opportunities to learn and grow will help them on their journey, which makes them more engaging for your reader.

13) Give them likes and dislikes

We all have things we like and dislike. These things might not be the main feature in your book, but they play into who your character is, what they work for, and what they try to avoid. Even if your readers don’t share the same likes or dislikes as your character, they’re more likely to connect with your character because your reader knows how it feels to like or dislike something. It also helps your reader learn about a character as they would a real person, which makes your character feel a little more like a real person.

14) Give them a hidden talent or passion

Nearly everyone has something they’re surprisingly good at or passionate about that doesn’t appear on the surface. Similar to likes and dislikes, giving your character these hidden aspects of their character gives your reader the opportunity to feel like they are getting to know your character better. It also gives you another layer to the character for you to explore as the writer.

15) Give them conflict

No one gets along with everyone and everything. Not only is it more realistic for your character to have conflict in their life, but it’s also more interesting. If your character doesn’t get along with a particular family member or co-worker, it may make your reader feel more protective of your character when they’re in that person’s presence or it may make them cheer for your character when they finally stand up for themselves. The universal nature of conflict gives your readers another chance to easily connect and empathize with your characters, which, once again, makes them more invested in your story.

I hope this helps you create awesome characters!

Now it’s your turn: What do you consider when you work to create awesome characters? What do you like to see in the characters you read? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

Choosing a Plot Structure | Elements of a Novel – Part 2

Elements of a novel: Plot structureWelcome to Part Two of the Elements of a Novel Series! Today we’re going talk about plot structure and how to choose the best one for your novel. (ICYMI, here’s the link to Part One: Creating Characters.)

Before you start writing your novel, it’s a good idea to have some idea of the story you want to write and the path you want to take your characters on. Plot structures are like road maps. They give you landmarks and to hit and act as a guide to help you write an interesting and engaging story that will (ideally) be satisfying to both you and your readers.

There are basic elements that are found in all major plot structures, but there are a few variations that may be better options depending on the type of book you’re writing.

Let’s dive in and take a closer look at the three most popular plot structures!

Freytag’s Pyramid

undefined

Overview

Freytag’s Pyramid is the most common dramatic plot structure. Here are the basic elements of this plot structure:

Exposition- Readers meet the characters, get introduced to the world, and learn any background information they need in order to understand the story.

Rising Action- The story builds to the climax with a series of events that lead your characters (and your readers) closer and closer to the climactic moment.

Climax- This is the pivotal moment in your story. The conflict you’ve been building in the rising action comes to a head. It’s the moment that will determine the fate of your main characters and shape their future.

Falling Action- The outcome of the climax is decided and your characters deal with the immediate aftermath.

Denoument- Wrap up your story, tie up any loose ends, and end.

Advantages

This is a timeless, evenly paced plot structure that can apply to almost story.

Disadvantages

It’s a little too straightforward and without more concrete checkpoints, it can lead to a story that’s a little too drawn out. This is because it visually places equal emphasis on the rising action as it does the falling action.

Recommended for:

Anyone who doesn’t know what plot structure to choose, or anyone who wants a straightforward classic.

Three-Act Structure

Basic Three-Act Structure
My Favorite Three-Act Structure

Overview

This structure follows the same basic format as Freytag’s Pyramid but has a few more checkpoints and guidelines. Here’s what this plot structure is made up of:

Act I (Beginning)

Opening/Exposition- Like the exposition in Freytag, here we meet the characters and are introduced to the world. It establishes what “normal” looks like for your main characters. This is intended to be done as quickly as possible.

Plot Point 1- This is your inciting incident. Something happens that shakes your character’s world and essentially kickstarts your story.

Act II (Middle)

3-4 points of crisis- This is similar to the rising actions in Freytag, but as you can see, it’s a little more specific. These points of crisis are intended to increase tension as the story progresses. They aren’t just “actions” they’re actual moments of crisis for your characters.

Plot Point 2- The second act ends with a dark moment for your character leading into the climax. Here, the tension is almost at its peak and everything is on the line for your characters.

Act III (End)

Climax- This is the epic fight or showdown you’ve been building towards. It should be the highest moment of tension for your characters and story.

Denoument- The biggest difference between Freytag and three-act is the very swift resolution. There is very little falling action. The idea is to wrap up your story as quickly after the climax as you can and get out. This should leave your reader satisfied with the outcome, but wanting more.

Advantages

This plot structure focuses more on raising the tension and creating an engaging story. It happens to be my favorite plot structure for this reason. (For more on how I use this structure, check out this post!) The focus on raising the tension with each crisis point helps to create a more tense and engaging story than simply focusing on moving your story closer to the climax. Visually, it also lessens importance on the opening and denoument, which puts the emphasis on writing a tight story.

Disadvantages

It doesn’t leave much room for side stories or character backstories. This can be a good thing if your goal is to write a tight novel. But if you’re looking to write something a little more thoughtful or slower paced, this may not be ideal for you.

Recommended for:

Plot driven stories that are intended to be tight, faster paced, tension driven, or page-turners.

Hero’s Journey

Overview

This plot structure is designed for more heroic stories and typically lends itself well to fantasies. One of the best examples is Lord of the Rings. The exact order of events can vary slightly, but this is the general plot structure:

1) The Ordinary World – First we establish the ordinary world of your hero. We see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure.

2) The Call to Adventure – Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good.

3) Refusal to the Call- The hero will say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with.

4) Meeting the Mentor- The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to go on this journey.

5) Crossing the Threshold – The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave home to begin their heroic journey.

6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies – The hero will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also meet people who will help them and make enemies.

7) Approach the Inmost Cave – The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming.

8) Ordeal – The hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this journey so far in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it could be a situation where the hero is forced to face their deepest fear. Additionally, the hero must face some kind of death. This death can be literal or metaphorical.  It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team.

9) Reward – The hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts in the ordeal. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or saving a person.

10) The Road Home – The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their journey will make it hard to return.

11) The Resurrection The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive.

12) Return with Elixir- The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, however your hero is forever changed.

Advantages

This structure gives you some very clear and concrete plot points to write an engaging story that is both focused on plot and character development. It is a plot structure that is tried and true. If you’ve got a character who is intended to be the hero of the story, this is a plot structure that isn’t likely to lead you wrong.

Disadvantages

It might be a little too concrete. It puts your character on a very specific path, that may not work for your story, even if it’s intended to be a hero driven story. (For example, if you didn’t envision your character leaving the “ordinary world” then this plot may not be for you.)

Recommended for:

Fantasy and adventure novels with a hero-centric story.

I hope this helps you choose the best plot structure for your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What plot structure is your favorite and why? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Create a Fictional or Fantasy World: 21 Writing Tips

How to Create a Fictional or Fantasy WorldSometimes our stories don’t fit in the world we currently live in. When that happens, we need to create worlds of our own. But world building can be pretty involved! If you’re creating your own fictional or fantasy world, it’s important to consider it from all angles and create a world that feels as real as the world we live our lives in.

If you don’t know where to start or what to consider when you’re building your fictional or fantasy world, this is the post for you! For each of these aspects, I would suggest basing your elements in details that are similar to our world. This will make your world more accessible for your readers. But, of course, that’s entirely up to you! 🙂

Here are twenty-one areas to develop to bring your world to life:

1) Location

Is your world a world within our own like Harry Potter? Or does is it completely independent, like Lord of the Rings? If it’s located in our world, where exactly is it? Do the two worlds meet or impact each other at all?

It’s also possible that your world will somehow be a modification of our world with systems and organizations created just for your characters. For example, when I wrote my spy series, I had to create a spy agency and base of operations for my characters to live and work at. I set the series in Wilmington, DE, so that much is a part of our world, but I had to develop the base, protocols, and way of life. Even though I didn’t create a whole world, I did create the environment my characters live and work in, so I consider this to be light world building.

2) Geography

What does the terrain look like? Where is everything located? If you’re creating a whole other world, you have to consider the countries that make up that world, where they’re located in proximity to one another and any mountains/oceans/etc that might exist. These elements may not play a direct role in your book, but they’ll likely inform the background dynamics in your story.

Also, consider how each important city and town is laid out. This will help you, your characters, and your readers navigate your fictional world.

3) Animals/creatures

What type of animals and creatures are in your fictional or fantasy world and how are they used? Are horses the main form of transportation? If the creatures are magical or mystical, be sure to develop their powers and their limitations.

4) Magic

How to develop a magic system really needs its own post (which I’ll definitely make happen in the future). For now, it’s important to know that if you’re going to have magic in your book, consider how that magic works, where the power comes from, who can use magic, and what the consequences and limitations are. If you have different magic systems, you’ll need to develop them all fully.

5) Class division

Nearly every world has some type of class division. The haves and the have nots. What does the day-to-day life in each of your classes look like? Also consider how the classes interact with each other and any underlying tensions that may occur as a result of the division.

6) Leadership

Who is in charge of your fictional or fantasy world? How did they come to power? What do the people think about this person as a leader? It’s natural for any civilization to put someone in charge. Even if the leadership doesn’t play a big role in the story, it’s still important for you and your character to understand who makes the rules in this world. This person will have played an active role in shaping your world even if they don’t play a super active role in your story.

7) Political Dynamics

This point is two-fold. First, what are the political dynamics within your character’s immediate world? People never agree on the best way to run their own town/city/country. What are the different political opinions and points of view? Second, what are the political dynamics in the world as a whole? How does your character’s town/city/country interact with the world around it? Do the neighboring towns/cities/countries get along, or is there a conflict brewing?

8) Governments

What type of government does your character’s world operate under? And what type of government does the surrounding area operate under? It’s probably best not to confuse your reader with a radically new form of government, but feel free to modify existing government structures to meet the needs of your world and society. Here’s an article from Scholastic on the forms of government if you need some help getting started.

9) People

What types of people live in your fictional or fantasy world? Are their different races? Are their magical races? Or are there some kind of genetic differences from our world? Note any basic similarities and differences with the people in your world compared to the people in ours. This will both help you highlight important aspects of your people, and help give your readers an understanding of what makes the people in your world unique.

10) Culture(s)

What is the culture like in your fictional or fantasy world? What does the day-to-day life look like? Are there different cultures based on city and/or region? How does the culture vary by class? Is the culture bright and bold? Or more quiet and subdued? Considering questions like this will help inform a handful of other aspects of your world as well!

11) Monetary System

How do people of your world pay for things? If you look at this world, nearly every country has its own monetary system. That means yours needs one too! Figure out what counts as “expensive,” what’s “cheap,” and how are hard do your people have to work to earn the money you create.

12) Food

What type of food do your people eat in your fictional or fantasy world? Are the big on spices? Or do they eat a lot of raw food? What would be served at a fancy dinner party and what would be considered “comfort food?” Think back to some decisions you made about your world’s culture. If it’s a bright and bold culture, spices or bold flavors might make the most sense. If it’s a calmer, more subdued culture, consider calmer and blander flavors.

13) Religion/Beliefs

What do your people believe? Is there a God or God equivalent? Are there multiple gods? Are there multiple conflicting beliefs? What other non-religious beliefs are held in your world? Do they believe in only working two days a week? Or that men can’t be trusted to be run a business? These beliefs will likely play into both your character’s motivation and any conflict that might come up.

14) Medicine and Illnesses

What types of illnesses do the people of your fictional or fantasy world encounter and how do they treat them? Do they rely on plant-based medicine? Or have they engineered some miracle cure for every ache and pain? Is there a devastating illness running ramped through your world? If there is, how contagious is it, how is it transferred, is anyone immune, and what’s being done to stop it?

15) Prejudices

What are people prejudice about in your fictional or fantasy world? Typically prejudices are deeply rooted in history and experience, so if there is some kind of prejudice, what happened in the past to create it? Is there a path to eliminating those prejudices? What role will this prejudice play in your story?

16) Threats

Is there a threat to your world’s way of life? Is there an outside country or person looking to upend the world your character lives in? Or is there some kind of risk for a natural disaster or disease that could severely damage the people in your world?

17) History

What is the history of your world? Was there a big war at any point in time? Was there a pivotal leader who was killed at some point? What events do the people in your world consider to be major aspects of their history? Do they celebrate any holidays based on a historical event? How long has your character’s town/city/country been in existence? At the very least, be able to point to 10 major historical events that shaped your town/city/country to make it what it is at the start of your story.

18) Natural Resources

What natural resources do the people of your world have access to? Where do they get their water from? What types of plants do they have? If they use these plants as medicine, what are the healing capabilities? Is there any natural resource that might be used for heat, or some other essential purpose? Are there any natural resources that are particularly valuable the way a diamond or other gemstone is in this world? How do you characters access these resources? If your natural resources are valuable enough, you may want to consider giving them a role in your story.

19) Centralized Gathering Places

Most civilizations have areas where people can gather. This may be a marketplace, a town square, a school, or a religious institution. Where might this gathering place be located geographically? What would be the main draw of the area? How busy is this place, typically? Are there different areas for different types of people? This type of location might be helpful to your story because it can give your characters a place to go for supplies and information.

20) Prominent Figures

Who are the prominent figures of your world? This may include leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. It can be anyone who’s made an impact on your world’s growth and development. Consider both who might be a prominent figure today, and who has been a prominent figure in the past. For prominent figures of the past, are there any tributes or memorials to these people? Also keep in mind, “prominent” doesn’t have to mean they did good things for your world. Perhaps there are people who are known for the damage they’ve done.

21) Technology

What type of technology does your world have? How is your technology powered (if it’s powered at all)? How expensive is this tech? Who has access to it? How high tech your world is will not only impact what your characters can do, but also how much they can get away with. If your world is more low tech, your characters may not be able to talk to each other at the push of a button, but they also won’t have to worry about a security camera watching their every move. Keep these trade-offs in mind as you develop this element.

I hope this helps you create a fictional or fantasy world of your own!

Now it’s your turn: What did I miss? Tell me what you think about when you create a fictional or fantasy world in the comments!

Pin it up!

Creating Characters | Elements of a Novel – Part 1

Creating CharactersI’m kicking off a new series all about the elements of a novel. In this series, I’m going to break down the elements you might want to consider while you work on your book. First up, we’re going to take a look at what goes into creating characters!

We’re talking about characters first because, if you ask me, they are the backbone of even the most plot-driven novels. Interesting and compelling characters are what makes readers want to invest in your story. If they care what happens to your characters, they will want to keep reading! So today, we’re going to talk about what goes into creating characters that grab your readers’ attention. First, we’ll look at what types of characters you might want to consider in your novel, then we’ll talk about ways to develop them into full and complete characters.

Types of characters to consider

When you flesh out a novel, you want to make sure you’re creating a believable world. And believable worlds are full of people! Here are some characters you might want to think about when you’re creating characters for your novel.

Hero/Lead

Of course, every book has a main character. This is the character who will carry your story. Ideally, they should be both flawed, but relatable. This balance is often effective because it gives readers someone to root for, while also allowing them to empathize with the main character. Often times, readers like to feel transported into a book, as if they themselves could be the hero. If your main character is too perfect, your reader won’t be able to relate and engage as fully as you might want them to.

Sidekick

If your main character has found themselves in a difficult situation, it might be a good idea to give them a friend who can root them on and help them achieve their goals. It also might be a good idea to have them balance out your hero in some way. So if your hero is super serious, it might be nice to have a sidekick who can keep things light. This can create a fun dynamic between the two characters while keeping your story balanced in the process. You might also want to consider how your sidekick can serve the overall story. Funny and supportive sidekicks are great, but funny, supportive and useful sidekicks are better. For more on how to create a functional sidekick, check out this post!

Mentor

If your main character has found themselves in an unfamiliar situation, it might be hard to justify how they can find their way on their own. That’s when the mentor comes in. A mentor can point your character in the right direction and provide the necessary wisdom and advice to keep your character and your book from stalling. Anyone with knowledge and direction can fill the mentor role, whether it be a teacher, a designated guide, or even a parent or other family member.

Love Interest

Romance subplots are always fun! (Or, if you’re writing a romance novel, this would, of course, be your main plot.) Relationships can push your character to learn, grow, and be honest with themselves, which is great for both character and story development. It can also provide your character with encouragement, support, and conflict in equal measure. However, like the sidekick, it’s best if the love interest is more than just a love interest. I’d suggest doing what you can to give them a way to contribute to the story.  Not only does it make the character more interesting, but it also gives them more of a reason to be around your main character, which gives you more of an opportunity to develop that relationship.

Villain/Antagonist

Your story will have more conflict if there is someone antagonizing your main character. This antagonist may be a villain, but they don’t have to be. They can simply be someone who is out to beat or compete with your main character. The example I like to give is that Voldemort from Harry Potter is a villain because he is intending harm. On the other hand, Aaron Burr from Hamilton is an antagonist because he’s not necessarily out to hurt Alexander Hamilton. He and Alexander are simply often after the same things and in competition with one another. Villains and antagonists are great because they create a natural conflict in your book, which pushes the story forward. If you are interested in a villain for your story, check out this post on creating strong villains!

Supporting Characters

Supporting characters help add depth to your world. You may only have a handful of characters involved in the ins and outs of your plot, but if you want your world to feel full and alive, you may want to think about having your characters interact with people outside of the core group. These characters may be seen on a regular basis, and from time to time, they may play a role in moving the story forward, but their main function is to support your main characters and add depth to your world.

Background Characters

Background characters play the smallest role in books. I consider them to be characters that are either only mentioned, but never seen, or only appear once or twice in the book.  Even we don’t see these characters, who they are and how they behaved is likely to be important to one of your main characters. For example, if your hero ran away from home, and never speaks to their family, and the family is never involved in the story, their family members would be background characters. We may never see these family members in your novel, but they may be talked about. Creating characters like these are important. You should be sure to put time into figuring out who these people are because they drastically impacted your main character, even if they never make a direct appearance.

Ways to develop characters

How you choose to go about developing and creating characters is completely up to you, but here are three methods to consider. They all involve questions, to varying degrees, and can be a great way to get your story off the ground. You can use them all together, or pick and choose your favorites.

Character questionnaires

Character questionnaires are probably the most common. You can find plenty floating around online with questions to consider for both your characters physical appearance and their personality and background. The pro to these types of questionnaires is that there are plenty of questions to consider that you might not otherwise have thought of. The con to this approach is that some of the questions can feel a little cookie-cutter and they don’t always force you to think about your character’s story arc.

If you want to give a character questionnaire a shot, here’s one from the Novel Factory.

Three big questions

This is my personal favorite approach. I consider these three questions for each of my main characters before I do anything:

What happened to my character before the book starts?

Who is my character at the start of the book?

Who do I want my character to be by the end?

These questions help me consider the nuances of what shaped my character prior to the start of the book and what will shape them going forward. I did a whole post on the specifics of how I use these questions to create strong characters, so if you want to learn more, be sure to check it out!

Core characteristic questions

This is the last set of questions to consider. I got these from grad school and I found them to be pretty thought-provoking. For every core character, consider:

What makes your character laugh?

What makes your character feel afraid?

What makes your character feel angry?

What makes your character feel ashamed?

What makes your character feel vulnerable?

Then for each one, figure out the “why” behind your answers. There has to be a story or underlying characteristic fueling each of these emotions. Understanding why your character feels this way will give you some insight into your character’s psyche, which will help you in creating strong characters.

I hope this helps you with creating characters for your novel!

Stay tuned for the next part of this series, which will be coming your way in a few weeks!

Now it’s your turn: What do you consider when you start creating characters for your stories? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Make Your Character’s Life Difficult: 10 Writing Tips

Making Your character's life difficultLet’s face it, stories are better when a character’s life is difficult. It gives your characters something to overcome and your audience something to root for. And not only does it make for a more interesting story, but if your characters have it too easy, they may also be harder for your audience to related to. Characters with an uncomplicated life may also read a little flat, which generally isn’t going to encourage readers to keep turning pages.

So today, we’re going to take a closer look at why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult and consider ten possible challenges to throw their way!

Why it’s important to make your character’s life difficult

It makes them more vulnerable (which makes them more human)

When a character is forced to struggle with a complication, it often backs them into a corner. This can make them more vulnerable than they might generally like to be. Any time you can make your character vulnerable is going to make them more human and relatable to your readers. It’s also going to make your readers root for your character and want to read on.

It forces them to grow

A lot of times, the reason a person feels vulnerable is because they’re faced with a fact or idea that makes them uncomfortable. This discomfort might be fear, shame, anxiety, guilt, grief, or any other challenging emotion. Forcing your character to struggle with the emotion of discomfort is going to make your character grow. If seeing your character vulnerable made your readers want to continue reading, seeing the growth that follows is going to leave them satisfied.

It makes for a more interesting and believable story

It simply is not as interesting or engaging to watch a character live a happy unencumbered life day in and day out. Even if they don’t have a ton of hardships or a tragic past, everyone has faced some kind of challenges in their life. It wouldn’t be realistic for a character to never (or hardly ever) struggle. If you want to write a story that’s both interesting and believable, I’d strongly recommend making your character’s life difficult as you can.

Some struggles to consider

Here are some ideas you can borrow or twist to make your character’s life more difficult. Ideally, these events should impact both your character and your plot in some fashion.

1) Reveal a family secret that has a massive impact on your character

Families keep secrets! And there are two ways this type of revelation can work for your character. The first is that the secret itself can be shocking or damaging to your character. Second, if your character has a good relationship with their family, it could be shocking or damaging that the secret was kept from them at all.

2) Have something important stolen from your character

We all have things that are important to us, but very rarely is an object important because of it’s monetary value alone. It’s typically the emotional connection we have to something that makes it important. If a character has something with an emotional value taken from them, it’ll likely push them to both be more emotional and vulnerable themselves, and to open up about the object’s importance to other characters.

3) Have your character lose their job/get kicked (or fail) out of school

This is another one that can push your character in at least two ways. First, there’s concern for the character’s future that will make them more vulnerable than usual. Then there’s having to own up to the thing that got them fired or kicked out in the first place.

4) Death of an important figure (use this sparingly and strategically)

Death comes with a lot of raw emotion and it’s something every single person reading will either be able to relate to immediately, or know that they will relate to someday. It’ll force your character to do and say things they normally wouldn’t, and the emotions of the death will stay with your character long after the initial grieving period passes. But use this strategically. It’s gotten pretty common to kill characters off for shock effect, which doesn’t do as much for your story.

5) Family fights

Anyone who has experience with a family will tell you that family drama is real and relatable. This is true for even in the best, most supportive, families. Your character can be the person in the middle of the disagreement, or they can be caught in between the feuding parties. Either way, it’s a sure fire way to add some tension to your character’s life or a specific event. Families tend to know you better than anyone, and they often know exactly what to do or say to get a rise out of you. This is something that can push your character into a more emotional state.

6) A natural disaster strikes and wreaks havoc

Problems that are outside of human control are great for when things in your character’s life are too easy and it wouldn’t make sense for an interpersonal conflict. It can also be great for when things are terrible but you want to make your character’s life even more difficult. Tensions always run high when danger strikes, which can easily push your characters emotionally.  And the bonus of something like this is that weather can just happen, so you can call on it as you need to (with a few seasonal exceptions) without having to overjustify why it’s happening.

7) An ex or enemy gets hired at their work (or shows up at their school)

Your story is practically guaranteed to get more interesting anytime your main character is faced with someone they don’t get along with. This is especially true when it’s in a work or school environment. These are places that we need to go to every day for one reason or another.  This makes it very difficult to escape the person who is sure to churn up some emotional turmoil.

8) Their parents get divorced

Families breaking apart is another situation that is sure to push your character. Depending on the way it happens and how many signs your character had leading up to the event, it may be emotionally scarring. This may force your character into a more vulnerable state that they can later grow from. This can be true whether your character is a teenager or an adult.

9) An enemy they thought was dead is alive

Similar to death of a close family member, this is another one that should be used very sparingly. However, it can be a very effective tool. If your character was under the impression that they were safe from an old enemy, it can be very jarring and trying for them to learn they’re not nearly as safe as they thought they were. If it’s done right, it can push your character in the right way without losing your readers.

10) Betrayal of a close friend/coworker/family member

Anytime trust is betrayed, it can be gutting. It can be enough to throw your character through a loop, question their own judgment, and fear that any secret they confided may be exposed. That alone is enough to push your character into a more vulnerable state. You can push them even farther if secrets actually do get out.

I hope this helps you make your character’s life difficult!

Now it’s your turn: How do you make your characters’ lives difficult? Do you have any go-tos? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!

How to Track Time in Your Novel: 6 Writing Tips

Time will happen in your novel. Your characters will go to sleep and wake up. They will make plans for the future. The pressure of a ticking clock may add some tension. But time, and consistency of time, can be a detail that’s easy to overlook when you’re writing. This means you have to make it a point to track time in your novels.

It’s important for writers to know when every chapter of their books is happening. So today we’re going to take a look at why it’s important to track time in your novel and some tips to help you do it!

The importance of tracking time in your novel

It’s an important detail

Time may be a relatively small detail in each scene, but it’s an important one. Knowing when we are in the story in relation to the rest of the book will help ground your readers. It’s also how you control the pace of your book and the distribution of information. And if you don’t take time seriously, you may accidentally render events in your book unbelievable or impossible.

It’s how you know when events should be happening

If your characters say they have a meeting with someone “in a week,” you have to be sure that a week has passed before your characters take that meeting. You’ll also have to make sure that you don’t let two weeks pass in your book before you make the meeting happen.

Time inconsistencies will distract your reader

Time management in novels is one of those things that if you’ve done it well, it’s likely no one will notice. But if you get it wrong, it will jump out to your readers and take them out of the story. For example, let’s say you start a chapter and you tell us that it’s night. If the chapter is all one scene and it ends with your characters going to get breakfast, it will give your readers pause. They’ll be more concerned about why your characters are eating breakfast instead of dinner than they will be about what is going on in your story.

You don’t want to give your reader any reason to come out of the story. Tracking time will help them move smoothly from one page to the next.

It impacts the tension and pace in your book

Very few things kick up the tension of a novel like a ticking clock or an impending event. But in order for that to be effective, you have to both understand and convey to your reader how much time is passing.

Tips on how to track time in your novel

Wait until you finish your book to get specific

You should probably have a general idea of time as you write–that way you know when holidays fall and when events need to happen–but I wouldn’t suggest sweating the details until your book is reaching its final stages. If you’re still revising your book, then there’s still a chance you may shift scenes and chapters around, which will impact the timing of them. Don’t waste time figuring out exactly when each scene of your book is taking place until you know the order of events in your book is pretty set in stone.

Read and highlight/underline every reference of time

Once you’re sure your book is set, you can track time for real. Read through it and highlight any and all time references. It doesn’t matter if it’s minutes, hours, days, or years. If anything jumps out at you as not making sense, make note of it. Small changes you can probably go ahead a fix (like, if your character says, “in a few minutes” but it should be in a few hours). But consider waiting to make bigger changes until your finished, in case you find a bigger inconsistency.

Go through your book with a calendar

If you’re not dating your book, it doesn’t matter the year of the calendar you’re using. Pick a starting point for your book on the calendar. If the exact day is vague at the beginning of your book, go to the first most specific point and mark that on your calendar. Unless you’re working with a specific year, the exact dates don’t matter. The point is to give you a concrete idea of when the weekends fall, and when the days, months, and seasons should change. Move through your book and mark each chapter on your calendar on the day it takes place. If a chapter takes multiple days, mark that too! Plot out where your events should fall. Then make note of any inconsistencies in your book to revise.

Don’t forget time zones!

If you have characters that are flying to different parts of the world, be sure to consider travel time and time zone changes. If your characters are flying east or west, they will likely lose or gain time depending on where they’re going. But also keep in mind, that this is fiction. So, if you need your characters to have a smooth time at the airport, or take a difficult-to-get direct flight so they can get somewhere on time, you can get away with it. Sometimes, it’s okay to lean on possibility even if it isn’t a likelihood.

Revise

Revise your book based on your calendar and inconsistency notes.

Double check on your next read through

Read through your book again (or at least, flip through and note when each chapter is taking place) to be sure everything lines up with your calendar notes and still makes sense. You also might want to ask an early reader to keep an eye out for any timing that’s out of place.

I hope this helps you track time in your novel!

Now it’s your turn: What times and tricks do you have to track time in your novel? Tell me about it in the comments!

Pin it up!