For Character Driven Fantasy, Start With World-building

Filed under notes to self.
During my planning for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel it occurred to me I have developed a process for honing in on characters, and it starts with world-building.
Create a physical world: whether it is the real world, a secondary world, or a nebulous astral plane, knowing what the large physical constraints are helps define what kinds of societies evolve. This might be where I introduce any magic inherent in the world, particularly any magic based on nature.
Define the time period of the world: when in the world is the story happening?
Describe societies: with physical boundaries in place and any natural magics defined, and knowing when the story is happening, I can start to see what sorts of societies might have developed. Is there an isolated society, or one where water is scare, or seafaring versus landlocked? This is where ideas for characters really start to emerge. Knowing how societies order themselves through social norms, politics, traditions, religion, commerce, etc. I can see roles within those societies. These roles start to suggest important players, not always POV characters but characters to move the story.
I should note this is often where a plot, if I don’t have much of one, starts to be revealed. To me, plots are about conflict and on the epic scale, conflict is about power; who has it, who doesn’t.
List who best to tell the story: again I’m initially talking about roles, not specific characters, but as the roles get defined the focus narrows to individual voices.
Identify the voices to tell the story: by this point most of the POV characters have been revealed. I know who needs to tell the story, the ones who need to shed light on an important role character who is not a POV. Most importantly, I know the characters who’s voices need to be heard. They already beginning to speak and make me take notice of them.
Detail the characters: is the final step. Dig deep into who they are, how they came to be who they are, and who they might be at the end of the story.
This is by no means a unique process but it’s the one that works for me. This is my sixth novel/series and just as the process has evolved to this point, it will no doubt continue to evolve. This is also not definitive. There are times when I’ll have an idea for a character and no world in which to put them in. That’s a thought for another day.

Best Online Short Stories July 2017

I have created a new feature, a monthly Best Online Short Stories list so welcome to the first edition.

This is a list of the best short stories I’ve read in the past month. These stories were published online, though some may also have been published in a print journal or e-zine. These online stories represent excellent work, often by new writers, and I simply wish them well and a wider audience.

If you read something great this month, share it.

  • The Dead Father Cookbook by Ashley Booms

Ashley Bloom:

A creepy story that may say too much about me in the fact I thought it was fun.

  • What if I Fall by Anne Dafeta

Anne Dafeta:

The tension and pacing are very well done.

  • Ten Thousand Sleeping Beauties by Jocelyn Koehler

Jocelyn Koehler:

A thoughtful, poignant tale with big themes in a small space.

Each of these stories are by writers without long publishing credentials but they are all strong writers with excellent voices.

Other good stories for July 2017

Goals, To-do Lists, Productivity, and Creativity

The first rule of writing is to write.
There are a bunch of other rules about how to do it.
The last rule of writing is, to write.
I know I am not alone in suffering from the Shiny Object Syndrome. I have told myself often when I’m working on an outline, or sketching scenes for a new work, that I’m just getting my ideas down before I forget them. While some of that is true, largely it is an excuse to spend time with a shiny new object.
I discovered recently that I had so many works in progress that I needed to set goals and due dates for those goals. That resulted in a schedule and a checklist which became my writing to-do list. That worked well for several months but then I stopped to think about the ultimate due date for any work. When would it be finished? I am a slow writer and given my time-sliced method I found that it would be nearly two years before the first work was finished.
Not acceptable.
The solution I found is really simple, and I may be the last to figure this out, but what I needed to do is trim the number of goals and the number of projects being worked on concurrently. Now I have a goal that equates to a single task: complete first draft of novel X by May 30th. I’m taking the 31st off.
There are probably many advantages to this but there are three which matter most to me. First, I can focus all my creative energy on a project. I am resisting the inevitable, “I’m not feeling this story today” syndrome and remaining focused on a single large work and a single short work until each draft is complete. The second advantage is that I get a completed draft sooner. Rather than have three or four drafts finishing within a month or two of each other—three years from now— I get one at the end of a few months. Hopefully.
The final and perhaps best advantage is this: my work will get better with each project. By working serially each project will be better than the one before. It is inevitable. Under my old way of working I would end up with three novels at the same level of craft and three years later another three novels that are a little better. By the time I get to my sixth novel I want it to be much better than my first, not just a little.
The shiny objects still pop up from time to time but I deal with them quickly in the form of notes and get back to the current project.
Write. Write to completion. Edit. Submit. Write again.

Creative Reading

I don’t know if all writers are like this, I suspect many are, but I can never read more than a few pages of a good book, fiction or nonfiction, without discovering some idea for one of my own stories. It’s not that I want to copy it, there’s just a trigger, something that fires my creative neurons and I have to stop reading and jot down a note.