The Planning Process: Pre-Nano Panic

Less than one week- a little over four days (98 hours to be exact), and the last minute panic is starting to set it. I started out this month with a plan held together by my best intentions, and in the typical style of life- everything went sideways. In spite of my best efforts, I am reaching crunch time with a mountain of prep work to do before nano begins in four days plus some change. This is the last minute scramble, the mad dash to get to the starting line before the race begins. The panic is rising, but I have a plan.

A few years ago I started to finally get organized with my prep work. Above my work space I have a shelf full of binders, each with it’s own little sticky note saying what story is contained within it. Each one holds my ‘story bible,’ so to speak. All of my prep work and notes are in it, organized into categories. And as I work, that binder is typically my constant companion. There is even one on that shelf for this blog right here- with all of my ideas for future posts and notes on ones that have already been cast out into the world.

Prepping for any new story is an exhilarating and also slightly daunting task. It’s like a relationship- when you have your first idea, it’s all fresh and exciting, you are constantly learning something new about it, it takes up all of your waking thoughts. And after a while, the honeymoon starts to end. You begin to learn where you will each fit in one another’s daily lives: this is the prepping stage. I have a pretty steady process I use when I’m getting ready to start on another big project.

Step One: The Research.

I love this part of the game, soaking up new information that will inevitably give me another inspired idea to chase down. I will peruse the internet and find books to take notes off of. The library and kindle unlimited become a writer’s best friend. Usually this is the stage that will help morph the ideas of my work, changing my original track subtly. I like to key into little details and let those take on the role of deciding factors. At this stage I am also starting to think about the bones of my story and reviewing my options re: world building and characters. Everything is still fluid and malleable.

Step Two: World Building.

I think it’s always important to know the ‘rules’ of the world you will be working in, I like to get as much detail as possible in this section, though only a small portion of it will actually make it into the finished piece. To see more on this process, take a look at my post: World Building Brick by Brick. You can also find a copy of my worksheet on my Resources page here: Top Shelf: Writing Resources

Step Three: Character Analysis:

This is perhaps one of my favorite parts of the planning stage: getting into the heads of my characters. The current project has more players than I usually work with, so that will make it a bit more complicated. I go through and make up an analysis for each one. I think it helps with the continuity of their actions throughout the story if you know what motivates them. A writing exercise that I like to take part in when I’m at this stage is delving into their backstory. I will pick a certain moment that might have been prominent in their personal background and write a scene about it. It’s good practice and helps you get to know your characters on a deeper level. Also, as I am in the process of writing a story, I will occasionally pick a scene and write it from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes it is fun to take a step back and look at the problem of your novel through fresh eyes. It can give you some new ideas that you hadn’t thought of before. To see more about my Analyses, check out this prior post: Character Analysis. As with the World Building Worksheet, you can find a copy of my character analysis sheet on my Resources page right here: Top Shelf: Writing Resources.

Step Four: Plotting/Outlining:

This is when you finally get to delve into the heart of the story. I prefer to work with a bulleted outline noting key scenes, and then I will fill in more detailed information about the scenes/transitions below it. This is either hand written or done on the computer, whichever seems to be working better for me at that particular time. I like to leave my outline somewhat open so that I can still follow the natural flow of the story as I am writing it- if a new idea sparks inside as I’m actually working through the scenes, I want the freedom to be able to follow that without having major issues with the remainder of my plot. My outline is pretty fluid, I will usually add and subtract from it as I am working.

Step Five: This is where the magic begins with the rough draft. It is an exciting and terrifying time. I am constantly having to remind myself that I am simply shoveling sand so that later I can build castles.

With only four days left to go, I am currently still on step one. Slightly overwhelmed with the amount of work I have ahead of me, but I know I can get it done. The madness will just be starting a little bit early this year. July 1, the start of Camp Nano is when the rough draft will finally be in progress. I can do this, I know it- that will be my mantra for the next month. Wish me luck, my friends.

The Allure of the Mythical Vampire

We all privately crave the darkness and the dangers that are lurking within. We want to feel our blood rushing through our veins as our heart pounds in our chests; we love to be scared, to feel slightly out of control. Fear, if done correctly, can be intoxicating, daring you to remember how alive you really are- and how quickly that can change.

Many of us stopped fearing the things that go bump in the night when we grew out of our dinosaur pajamas. Instead, those fears began to morph, to change to more practical terrors: burglars, natural disasters, the math teacher, taxes. And yet there is still a part of us that might ensure that the closet door is actually closed before going to sleep, because you never know when the boogeyman will decide to reanimate beside your hanging sweatshirts and wreak havoc on the living- for old time’s sake.

Vampires have inundated popular culture in recent years; books, movies, TV shows- we see them everywhere. However, when you look through history, this is not a solitary incident. The popularity of the fanged creatures ebbs and flows, standing out as a beacon, peppered periodically throughout the ages. They embody the fears of the time periods that created them, allowing us to analyze our very real fears through the lens of fiction. Lets take Dracula, as an example- the epitome of the vampire novel. Bram Stoker wrote this book in 1897. At the time, England had the largest ports in the world- which led to a general widespread fear of incoming diseases, foreigners and immigrants. Stoker brought to life the fears of his contemporaries by bringing a foreign monster onto European soil. He wasn’t the only one, this same rule seems to apply to every time period that has reawakened that love of the paranormal. For example in the 80’s- vampires were written as parasites, a disease to be spread from one unsuspecting human to another. This also happened to coincide with the AIDS epidemic, a fear which raced like wildfire through unsuspecting communities.

Fast forward a few decades- what about now? Surely I can’t honestly tell you that the inner workings of the brooding Stephan Salvator or his opposing badass brother, Damen (thank you, Vampire Diaries), could really be telling us something about the psyche of our current society? In fact, I thinks that’s exactly what I’m about to do. If you look through virtually any modern vampire story- The Vampire Diaries, True Blood (or the Sookie Stackhouse series if you prefer the books), The Vampire Chronicles, even Twilight- you will notice a very common thread tying them all together. They concern themselves with the battle of morality vs self acceptance. What is the line between man and monster? Every human being carries within themselves a darkness, as much as we would like to ignore our genetics, it is there. The question is how far do we allow ourselves to delve into this darkness? It is about balancing our desires. When we read about vampires, we are given a venue to explore our darkest desires from a safe vantage point. Whatever that darkness entails: a thirst for power, for vengeance, sexual gratification- it doesn’t matter.

We live in a world filled with fear and a strong sense of the social norm. Our world is unstable, filled with greed, corruption, war, constant fear of job loss, a tumultuous housing market- is it really any wonder that we gravitate towards fiction that circles around a being that is powerful enough to transcend our current problems? They embody the cold control that we do not have in our own lives.

They are all of the things that we wish we could be. They are powerful, but not in an obvious way. They are strong- without the bulging biceps that would give their strength away. They don’t need any gizmos or gadgets, they can be completely autonomous in their actions. They are the loners who are never lonely- thriving in a solitary existence where we flounder, hoping and praying to find someone to befriend. We want to be self-reliant and independent, but we are not.

The fears that encumber us mean nothing to them. Imagine- living in perpetual youth without the constant fear of equalizing death hanging over your head. What would you do, what would you try- if you knew that you had all of the time that the world had to offer you? We can imagine the context of our own mortality, as well as the things that are truly important to us- when we envision a life without the limitations of time. They survive and endure.

Vampires embody all that is desirable to us, they are the bad boys we mistakenly thought we could reform in high school. They provide us with a sense of danger, they are selfish without apology. There is a certain hazardous rush that comes with the concept of knowing that another carries full control over you- they could protect you with every fiber of their being, or destroy you in a single heartbeat. If they want something, they have no qualms about pursuing it, taking it, and enjoying every last moment of it.

There is also that interesting concept that pops up in many versions of these stories- it is the element of the discovery. It’s exciting to think that others are not, in fact, what you would expect them to be. Much as you are aware that you have aspects to your own being that those closest to you would be shocked to find out. We live our lives behind masks, always forgetting that we are not the only one.

Vampires exist as metaphors for our deepest desires, the ones that we hide from the rest of the world. When we read about them or watch them, we get to delve into that piece of us that rarely sees daylight. Our entertainment is a reflection of our lives. It embodies the pieces of ourselves that we are not comfortable openly discussing, so we mask them in the shades of our fiction, wrapping them up in make-believe until we feel we are at a safe enough distance.

 

Character Analysis

We all have a favorite character, the one that leaves us entranced and longing to reach out for more. Its the one we would love to meet, if only they were real, or perhaps we simply adore the thought of getting lost in their lives through the pages of their story. Whether it’s Hermoine Granger’s notorious wit, the brooding Heathcliff, the adventurous Frodo Baggins, or the simple ass-kicking Katniss Everdeen: there is an underlying current of authenticity that ties these characters together. They feel more like actual living, breathing human beings than mere characters on a page. They speak to us in a way that cookie-cutter fiction cannot. Their stories become our stories if only because we allow ourselves to believe in their magic, to believe that someone somewhere is just like them. Or perhaps it is simply because we can glimpse pieces of ourselves within them.

Even the most blindingly original plot can stall and die namelessly if the characters appear too one-dimensional. Bland characters will leave your story flat and easily forgotten. As readers we crave the human elements, a balance between flaws and redeeming traits. We crave the push and pull of conflict, watch the turmoil unfold before our very eyes. We want to see drama that doesn’t directly belong to us. We want to feel something real.

So how do you do it? How do you take a piece of paper and use only the written word to create a fully fleshed out human being? I would love to tell you that there is a secret formula to it; that all you have to do is add a dash of insecurity, a dollop of wit and a whole spoonful of bravery, bake on high for thirty minutes and viola: the perfect character will magically appear and dance across your blank page. But alas, the reality is far less glamorous than the fiction I can spin. What it really comes down to is taking the time to sit down and work hard. Read a few psychology articles if you have to, don’t forget to throw in your common sense and delve deeply. To create the perfect character you need nothing more than a lot of creativity and careful planning.

Personally, my character planning stage is one of the longest and most thought-out portions of my writing process. This is mainly because I am a firm believer that the characters are what truly make a story. As a reader, if I can’t form some type of feeling about the characters involved, I am drastically less likely to finish the book. I don’t even have to like them- but I have to feel something.

I tend to work off of a general worksheet that I’ve created over the years and continue to alter as needed. One of my favorite things to do to really get into a character’s head includes a fun little writing excersize that I encourage anyone to try. I will take a character and start writing about a pivotal moment in their backstory. This is a story that will, more likely than not, never make it into the final product- I write it for me alone. I will also occasionally take an existing scene and write it from another character’s perspective. I find it helpful to figure out their individual motivations throughout the story. My personal motto is to treat each character as though they feel the story is about them.

My character analyses are constantly evolving, I don’t stop adding to it just because I’ve started my writing. In fact, I tend to go back through and do a lot of updating during my editing process to clean it all up. It is at this point that you start to see how your characters fully develop during the story and can fine-tune their journey and reactions along the way.

Below is the general worksheet that I use. Feel free to take it and change it to fit your own process, or send me some suggestions- I am always open to new ideas. For your convenience, I have this worksheet in Word and PDF format, along with a few other tidbits, over on the resources page right here:

Top Shelf: Writing Resources

Without further ado, here it is:

Character Analysis Worksheet

General:

  • Name:
  • Nicknames:
    • Story behind nicknames (if any):
  • Main or minor character:
  • Character’s role:

Physical:

  • Age:
  • Gender:
  • Race:
  • Eye color:
  • Hair color:
    • Hair style:
  • Complexion:
  • Build:
    • Height:
    • Weight:
  • Style of clothing:
  • Scars, tattoos or piercings:
  • Most striking or memorable physical feature:
  • Describe their speaking voice and likely vocabulary:

Personality:

  • Type of personality (ex: perky, broody, quiet):
  • Introverted or extroverted:
  • Characteristics/mannerisms:
  • Strengths:
  • Special skills/talents:
  • Weaknesses:
  • Critical flaw (and how it will impact the story):
  • Quirks:
  • Nervous traits:
  • Biases:
  • Passions/convictions:
  • Best friend:
  • Any enemies:
  • Favorites (ex: food, books):
  • Education Level:
  • Effects of their environment on them:

Inner Journey:

  • Back story:
  • Motivation (What does the character really want?):
  • What is the character most afraid of:
  • What is the character’s ‘mask’ that lets them hide from the world:
  • Character’s journey at the end of the story looking back- what they didn’t know:
  • Internal conflicts:
  • External conflicts:

Factors to Identify for Later Writing:

  • How will you set up the story to help your audience relate to the character when they are being introduced into the story?
  • Character flaws and how they are introduced:
  • Meetings with other characters or pivotal scenes from this character’s viewpoint:

Learning to Let Go: Decluttering and Moving On

When I was a little girl I remember deciding that it was time for me to ‘grow up’ and let go of childish things. So I packed all of my stuffed animals and barbies into large pastic bags, shut my eyes and tied the tops before running back to my room in fear that I would re-open them. There was one bear in particular- I called him Big Bear, and he was ‘the bear,’ the one I slept with every night and drug to the couch with me when I was sick. I put him in the bag too, despite the pang I felt in my heart at the prospect. He deserved to bring another little kid as much joy as he had brought me, I reasoned. My bear was not done giving,  but I was just too old to keep taking. This is a decision that I still regret, even as a 27 year old woman who has no need for stuffed friends to cuddle with at night and chase the monsters away (my dog is perfectly capable of both tasks).

There are moments in life when purging your possessions is the most liberating feeling you can create; a declaration of your own personal independence in our materialistic world. On the flip side, there are also moments where you go into the challenge kicking and screaming, clinging to your familiar surroundings like they will be able to postpone the inevitable. This last week started out as the latter and morphed into the former.

It had only been a couple of years since my fiancé and I downsized from a three bedroom house (albeit, one we shared with roommates), into what was essentially a master bedroom and one smaller room. It seemed that many of our superfluous items didn’t make it through that purge into the new home. So when I found out we were downsizing yet again (and rather quickly, I might add) I panicked a bit internally. How could we possibly make it work when we had nothing left to give up?

As it turns out, that was a baseless fear. As I was cleaning out the closets I realized that when we had moved the last time, I had been surprisingly good at neatly squirreling away large quantities of items into a small space without it even being noticeable. I was actually a bit of a magician in that regard- who knew. The downside: I still had plenty of possessions to part with. So the next dreaded question: how could I possibly decide what was worth keeping, and what wasn’t?

I’ll be the first to admit that I get overly attached to inanimate object, I always have. And I guess a part of me feels a strange level of responsibility to these items when it comes to finding them a good home. I was a bit leery of my own capabilities to purge these things from my life. I expected it would be a draining task- I did not anticipate how much I would learn about myself in the process. It shouldn’t have been all that surprising: if you ever want to learn what a person is all about, just look at the possessions they surround themselves with. These are the things that I learned while mired down in the contents of my closet.

I own many mementos from the people who have passed from my life. I cherish them for the sole reason that they once belonged to people I have loved and lost. I always refused to let go of the items because it felt like letting go of the person. And yet, that’s not really the case.

Let’s reverse the scenario, if I had passed, I wouldn’t be offended if my sister got rid of that old pair of sneakers I used to wear. They’re just shoes, they aren’t me. I can picture my grandma up there laughing at how much stock I put into an old dress I will never be able to wear- just because it had belonged to her. A person does not get passed down through their items. If you aren’t going to use it and it doesn’t have a specific strong memory for you- those you loved will not be upset if you give their possessions a fresh start with someone who will enjoy them. They wont do anyone any good just sitting in your closet.

This was hard for me, it took me a bit of time sifting, but eventually I managed to part with the things I wouldn’t use. I kept a few meaningful mementos that will make me smile every time I pull them out; a t-shirt I can wear to bed that still smells like her, a tiny quilt from when she taught me to sew, a watch he got that was engraved with the year I was born; these are all little things that I can enjoy every day without feeling suffocated by the ghosts of what once was. I have my memories, my picures. You have to remember that letting go of the items doesn’t mean you are letting go of them. It means you are allowing the things they loved to have a new life.

I tend to collect things for the woman I expect to be someday. For example: I owned 10 pairs of high heels- and yet, I currently wear flats to work about 95% of the time. I have always had this image of my future self in a pencil skirt, fitted blazer and cute heels: a strong, successful woman, polished and pulled together, exuding confidence for the first time in my life. In reality when I wear them I look like a baby giraffe learning to take her first steps, and then when you add in the fact that I am suddenly a foot taller than everyone else- my awkwardness becomes blindingly apparent.

I used to feel guilty when I thought about giving up these things that were imbued with the image of the person I thought I would become- it felt like I was giving up on her. I didn’t like the prospect of admitting that I would never become that woman I had always envisioned. But this time around, I looked at it through a different lens. I am not that woman- but in some ways, I am so much better. I don’t need cute clothes or shoes to show the world who I am. I want my possessions to tell the story of who I am, and those things don’t speak a truthful word.

Decluttering your life is about finding what is important to you and making sure that is your focus. It’s about nurturing the things that you love and releasing the distractions that surround you. What it really comes down to is deciding what makes you happy. You don’t have to be a minimalist- it doesn’t work for everyone, believe me, I have tried. But if you enjoy your books- keep the entire shelf full. Or if watching movies is how you wind down, then don’t force yourself to part with them in the name of organization. But if you have had that jewelry making kit in your closet for the past year and half- and still haven’t touched it, well, perhaps its time to give that kit to someone who might enjoy it now. It doesn’t mean you will never attempt that new hobby, but it might mean that right now you just have too many other things in your life.

If our possessions are a reflection of ourselves: what do I want mine to say? What is truly important to me? The answers to these questions are the things that should permeate my life. I don’t need all of the extras to color in the margins when I know who I am. I am a writer, a pet owner, a baker, a crafter, a professional, an avid reader, a lover of warm drinks in the mornings, adventures and the outdoors. I kept this in mind- and now when you look at the items I have left surrounding me, you can start to get a clearer picture of what it means to be Katie. Sometimes it does a bit of good to think of your space as real estate, as clinical as that may sound. I know where most of my time is spent, and I know what I want to spend a few more of my weekly hours on. For example: the top three things that take up my free time are: writing, reading, and walking the dog/hiking. When you take this in mind, it becomes fairly obvious that I should give my writing space a larger percentage of my personal real estate, instead of making more room for that shoe rack or the sewing machine that has not left it’s box in the two years I have owned it. So what are you willing to ‘spend’ your space on? Thank about the way you want to spend your time and learn to let go of the rest using this idea.

Letting go is difficult, after all, I bought all of these things for a reason, I feel obligated to have a reason to dismiss them. But I don’t need one. I need to remember that some of the things I own are just that- simply items. But to someone else they could become a favorite movie, their best date shoes, or the book that they will read 50 times and never grow tired of.  The items that are just ‘things’ to me could become someone else’s treasured possession. I could be the one thing keeping them from enjoying it more than I ever could.

I used to reason that I was a creative soul, and that a little bit of clutter was good for me. But really, in the end I was simply holding onto things that were holding me back. When you hold onto your past, you don’t give yourself any room for the future. You become inflexible and stale. Simple tasks morph into something daunting. And to be honest- now that we’ve gone through and taken so many things away- I feel so much better. I know that more will be following, now that I am ready to let go. I am constantly evolving, it only makes sense that the things I surround myself will too.

Happy Father’s Day

My dad never told me how to live my life, he simply set an example for me to follow. He was always a strong man. I know every kid believes that, but he always proved me right. My dad was a firefighter- he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known, did everything he could to make our lives better. And then when I was in second grade, something happened that would change our lives forever. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

It was devastating. My dad was strong, he could fight off the monsters and keep the darkness at bay. His career consisted of saving lives and running into burning buildings when everyone else was running out. He was also on the K-9 search and rescue team where he responded to major disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing. His life was built around his strength- both mental and physical. And suddenly, he couldn’t walk across our yard without a cane. He would be driving down the road and would suddenly lose his vision. And perhaps worst of all for him- he couldn’t work on the line anymore, he had to move to a desk to support his wife and four children. For such an active man, the reality of losing control over your own body must have been shattering, but he never breathed a word about it. He continued on, pushing through and persevering.

It was a rough year- when we were still learning what the disease meant and what it could do to him. And then there was the game of discovering the right medication- it was like playing Russian roulette, you never knew what to expect from each one. Would this one make him grumpy? Would it make things worse? Or would it help his limp go away? Eventually life settled into a new routine, most days the cane went away, but the limp was still there. We knew we would never be the same again. MS is an invisible disease, no one would ever be able to see the daily struggle, but it was always there, hidden under the surface.

We all have bad things happen in our lives. Some people let those things define them. People will use these moments as an excuse, a crutch. My dad used his moment as a challenge. He never let his disease stand in his way. He couldn’t be on the line at work anymore, so he worked twice as hard at the desk- ensuring safety for his men, occasionally going in for practice burns. He wouldn’t always tell us when a relapse was hitting because he knew we would try to make him slow down. My dad only knows one speed: go. He fought through the pain, the discomfort, the fear. He chose to define his disease, he was not going to let it control him. He stayed active. He was strong in every way possible.

He would never let anything stop him. Even when he fractured both of his legs- they didn’t need casts because of the location of the fractures, and they hurt, but not that bad- so he kept running. Every single day. He would never let anything stop him.

And because of that, I have leaned to do the same. The worst moments in my life do not define me, I decide what matters. I wont let anything stop me, even when it seems impossible. He has always believed in me, so I can believe in myself. He taught me that you have to work hard to accomplish your goals, nothing will ever just be handed to you. You need to be thankful for everything you have- even your health is a precious commodity that might not always be available to you. He taught me to make the best of everything, you only live once and you might as well enjoy it. And when all else fails- take a break, go outside and enjoy nature- because it is the most healing element in the world.

I see a lot of my dad when I look at myself: my work ethic, my stubbornness, my nerdy jokes (I can dad-joke with the best of them), my belief that even the craziest dreams are possible- so many things I got from him. I am proud of him, of everything he has accomplished and all of the things that he has taught me. We shouldn’t appreciate our father’s only one day a year. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of what is important. He is the most influential person in my life. At 27 years, I can still say my dad is my hero. And for that, I thank him. Everything I am can be traced back to him. So for all of the lessons, all of the unconditional love, all of the times you simply shook your head when I brought home another ‘winner’: thank you dad, for everything.

 

World Building Brick by Brick

A truly gifted author will transport you to another realm without you even noticing. You can smell the stench wafting from the gutters, hear the clicking of your boots on the marble floors, feel the droplets of rain pattering against your hood, dripping onto your nose. You will nod your head in agreement, faintly believing in the back of your mind that you have been to this world before, you have run your fingers over the mortar of it’s brickwork, you have listened to the locals bicker about politics by the flickering flames of a campfire or stared in deep concentration at a map trying to figure out how to get back to the main road. A talented writer will gently lie to you, lulling you into the dream of a world that never existed. When you wake from it, you will ache for that place, long for a world you desperately wish you could hop in your car and drive to.

So how do you build castles from thin air? I know I will probably never join the ranks of J.R.R Tolkien, J.K Rowling, or Patrick Rothfuss when it comes to their detailed worlds, but I would like to think I have learned a few things over the years. I love creating an entire society out of nothing but my words. I am an over-planner, I thrive on details. The vast majority of what I plan doesn’t actually make it into my novel, but it does influence the way that I write and helps me give my world a certain feel, painting it in the appropriate shades. It creates authenticity out of something that is essentially a lie.

You will be tempted to color your world from the moment the reader opens the first page; this in itself is not necessarily bad, you want your reader to be able to visualize your creation. However, a twenty thousand word explanation of the culture and socio-economic strengths and weaknesses will not draw your reader in, enticing them to turn the page. If you want to teach them about dragons, don’t have a character regurgitate a text book; perhaps create an argument between two of them, maybe one does not believe and the other swears he has seen them. The scene may be longer, but your reader will walk away with more than just a bulleted list of information. They will learn about the culture through the argument, the beliefs of the characters that will fill your pages, and perhaps they’ll start to get a feel for how your characters view one another. Their is an art to the way you present your world; usually less can be so much more. Don’t tell them, show them with subtle hints and clues. Describe your world for them through actions, not through flourishing paragraphs that, though beautiful, do not actually add to your plot.

As I said before, I over-create. I like to make the background of my story as rich as I can, though only a small percentage of it might make it into the final product. I want to understand my world. Over the years I have created a general worksheet to help me plan. It gives me a roadmap, a template that I can base the rest of my work on. With this new map, I can find the foundation that I need for a consistent story; at the end of the day, it is the consistency that will make your novel feel genuine. It’s only a general outline, every story will have different areas that might need more vetting out before I start my actual writing.

If you decide that you might be interested in trying it out yourself, you can find a Word and PDF version, along with other little goodies I like to use, on my resources page right here:

Top Shelf: Writing Resources

That page is continuously updated, so feel free to check back again for new content.

Without further ado, I present to you:

The World Building Worksheet

Physical Traits:

  • World Name:
  • Type:
    • Planetary: Earth? If not, what is the planet like? Mostly rock? Three moons? A purple sun?
    • Style: Is it more medieval, modern or futuristic? Steampunk? Magical?
    • Style: Is it more medieval, modern or futuristic? Steampunk? Magical?
  • Geography:
    • Make a map (surprisingly fun, no artistic talents required)
    • Where are your major resources and settlements: Such as rivers, forests, lakes, agricultural , etc. (keep in mind the people you will have living there and how they will survive, along with any social issues that might cause- for example, fighting over resources)
    • Climate: Keep in mind your general geography, as well as the people living in each area

Settlements and Societies:

  • Settlements: I usually do a separate sheet for each major settlement
    • Type: City, Town, Village
    • Population:
    • Layout/Geography: are the houses close together, far apart? Is it clean, dirty?
    • Security: Gates surrounding, soldiers, form of law enforcement (if any)
    • Allies and enemies:
    • Building types: wood, brick, etc.
    • Technology Level:
    • Transportation:
    • What are the inhabitants: certain type of creatures, magical, race
    • Education system:
    • Type of medicine: doctor, priest, wizard
    • Major professions of the people: Mining community, predominantly agricultural
    • Economy:
      • Rich area/poor area:
      • Monetary system:
        • Type of currency:
        • Trade:
    • What resources do they use:
    • What resources do they need:
    • Political system/Government:
      • Type of government:
      • Local leaders:
      •  cities/people that may rule over them:
    • Religion:
    • Language:
  • Creatures/Types of People: (for this subject, it is good to create a separate page for each creature/type of people)
    • What creatures populate your realm:
    • Where do they live:
    • Clothing styles:
    • Their allies and enemies:
    • Interesting facts/histories:

Magical Elements

  • Magic: (if any)
    • What type of system (ex: arcane, dark, etc.)
    • How does it work:
    • The magic laws:
      • What can be done with the magic and how:
      • What cannot be done:
    • How do people feel about it:
    • Who can use it and who can’t:

World Background

  • History:
    • Major wars or conflicts:
      • Key players:
      • How it started:
      • Major battles/events:
      • Who won and how:
      • The aftermath: (how were the people treated, how did they rebuild themselves, any remaining grudges)
    • Key figures:
      • Why they are important:
    • Current conflicts:
      • How they began:
      • Current status:
      • The ‘sides’:
        • Prejudices between groups:
      • Reasons:
        • Ways to fix them:
    • Important myths/lore:

 

Camp Nano Cabin Quest

The ideas have sizzled and slipped through your mind until you finally decided to reach out and grab one. You have committed by taking that step and creating your story on the Camp Nano website, and you still have the rest of the month to plan and prepare for the coming adventure. But something is missing- you haven’t dared search for that illusive ‘perfect cabin’ to lay your virtual head. The quest for a cabin can be an undertaking all on it’s own.

The people that you choose to embark on this daring adventure with can make the difference between crossing safely through the Misty Mountains or getting trapped in the Shire with nothing to do but repaint your door. There is really nothing worse than being forced to admit to yourself that half of your cabin is dead on arrival after five days of virtual silence. And forcing conversation online is just as awkward as real life- take my word on that. So, how do you find the right group when you don’t have Gandalf marking you each for mutual adventure?

Gandalf-Is-Searching-For-Someone-To-Adventure-With-In-Lord-Of-The-Rings

Truthfully, my methods seem to be hit or miss. Although I must say, I am not a huge fan of being randomly sorted. I had expected that it would be like Hogwarts- but in reality there was much less magic and a lot more voids of awkward silence with cabin mates who couldn’t be bothered to log back in once we hit the first of the month when we were set to embark. I have been a firm ‘custom cabin-er’ since they first started to allow them. The big problem though? Everyone is excited before the first day hits, they are full of a bright enthusiasm for their project. But once you get a few days in, the reality of the mountain you face starts to set in. People don’t want to give up their lives for an entire month. So they disappear into the ether- if they even show up at all.

Going through the message boards to find a new group is like combing through the classifieds looking for a blind date (that’s probably an outdated analogy- umm- tinder, is that what people use now? Swipe left…or is it right?) Most people are pretty specific- age limits, geographical boundaries, genres- I even came across one person who was making every prospective cabin mate fill out an application and copy an oath to participate as a binding cabin contract. Obviously, this is a person who had been burned by the MIA cabin-mates before. Now me, I don’t think I want to be that extreme- I understand the desire to find others as serious as you about their work. But Nano is also meant to be a fun experience. I don’t want to worry about ‘conversation quotas’ in my cabin chat room, or be biting my nails and in fear of a request to leave when I decide to take a weekend off from my writing. I want the balance. I want to enjoy this.

So, after combing tirelessly through the message boards and finding a few that only partially fit, I decided to try delving into other areas of my life first, on the search for the perfect cabin. I have a few writing groups I frequent, all Facebook-centered at this point. One of them was actually created by a group of us who met during Nano a year or so ago- it had been a good season. I posted in my groups and waited. I was surprised to hear that one of them had quite a few people who hadn’t heard of Nano before. I managed to get a couple who were interested. By no means do I have a full cabin, but it’s been fun sharing something that I deeply enjoy with these new people who just might catch the nano bug like I did.

So I would like to extend my invitation here- if anyone feels like joining a cabin for camp nano- leave me a message. All projects are welcome; we have novels, blog projects, possibly some editing work- our doors are open if you care to embark on a daring adventure with a group of humble writer/bloggers. What do you say? Do you feel like being brave this July?