NaNoWriMo Prep #16 – Building Your World

World Building MapToday I’ll talk briefly about world-building. Tomorrow I’ll focus on setting, which is basically a more detailed view of the world you’re creating for your NaNo novel.

World-building is just that. Building a world for your NaNo novel. Usually world-building is associated with fantasy or science fiction novels. But even if you’re writing a contemporary novel set in your home town, you still should know as much as you can about it and do research, which is easier than ever to do thanks to the Internet.

For example, you may know everything about the side of town you live on as to where people go to eat, attend school, work or play but what if your character comes from a side of town you’ll not that familiar with? Then you’ll need to research it, visit it or chat with people who do live there.

Here are some articles that can assist you with your world-building efforts.

The Seven Deadly Sins of World Building  – An article that details some of the sins that can happen during world-building such as not considering the basic infrastructure or creating monolithic social, political, cultural and religious groups.

Twenty-Five Things You Should Know About World-Building –  Chuck Wendig never fails to make me laugh and he provides writing information that’s not only totally insane but totally accurate to boot. His post on world-building includes such headings as A Rich Tapestry Or An Unrolled Tube Of Plain White Toilet Paper? and Wait, I Need To Research My Made-Up World?

An Impatient Writer’s Approach to World-Building -I like prepping but I’ll admit I’m still having trouble world-building. Like the author of this post shares, I get impatient. Here is a quote from the article as to Strauss’s approach to world-building.

Before I do anything else, I make sure that I have a firm grasp of my world’s core principles; but the details–the shape and nature of the actual places my plot takes me–aren’t developed until I get to them in the course of writing.

World Building EyeHow Much of My World Should I Build – Lisle suggests that you build only what you need and imply the rest. Sounds good to me. I love a detailed world as much as the next reader, but I also don’t want to drown in details, especially if they’re not essential to the story.

30 Days of World-Building – This one started out as a series of post on a NaNo forum. Although geared more toward fantasy writing, it’s still useful and the author has graciously provided links to free downloads of the document, including pdf, epub and mobi.

So You Want to Build Your Own Fictional World – – The website TV Tropes has set up a page that assists you in building a world. What’s nice about this page is that when you click on the links it takes you to posts on the site about that particular topic and gives you examples and definitions. Of course you want to avoid doing anything that’s been done to death, thus the title “tropes”, but you may get some ideas as to how to twist a trope to make it new and fresh. Remember, there’s really nothing new under the sun, just revamps, revisions, revivals and reimaginings of what’s already been done.

Aliens and Alien Societies – Although this book focuses on science fiction the chapter on Creating Alien Societies can help you create any society, whether it’s human, paranormal or fantastical.

I actually find watching Face Off, Syfy’s reality series in which makeup artists compete for prizes, interesting because the makeup artists have to also explain the concepts behind their creations, i.e. what environment their creatures live in. For example, one of their challenges was to create elemental fairies who came about as the result of a natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake.


NaNoWriMo Prep #15 – Choose Your Genre

If you haven’t chosen your genre for your NaNo novel or have but you’re looking for information, inspiration on guidance how to write in your genre, check out the books below. Nothing, of course, can substitute for reading widely in your genre, but it’s also good to check out what others have to say about writing in a particular genre.

MysteryMysteries, Thrillers and Suspense

Writing the Mystery – A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional – G. Miki Hayden

Writing the Modern Mystery – Barbara Norville

The Elements of Mystery Fiction – Writing a Modern Whodunit – William C. Tapply

Writing Mysteries – A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America

You Can Write a Mystery – Gilian Roberts

How to Write a Damn Good Mystery – A Practical Step by Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript – James Frey

Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel – How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style – Hallie Ephron

The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery – Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick

Writing Mysteries – Edited by Sue Grafton with Jan Burke and Barry Zeman

How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries – Kathy Lynn Emerson

How To Write Mysteries – Shannon Ocorck

How to Write Killer Fiction  The Funhouse of Mystery and the Roller Coaster of Suspense – Carolyn Wheat

Don’t Murder Your Mystery – Chris Roerden

How to Write a Damn Good Thriller – James Frey

Now Write! Mysteries – Suspense, Crime, Thrillers and Other Mystery Fiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers  – Edited by Sherry Ellis & Laurie Lamson

RomanceRomance and Erotica

Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies by Leslie Wainger

The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel by Christie Craig and Faye Hughes

On Writing Romance – How to Craft a Novel that Sells by Leigh Michales

Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz

A Natural History of the Romance Novel by Pamela Regis

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Alison Kent

The Joy of Writing Sex by Elizabeth Benedict

Elements of Arousal by Lars Eighner

Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Beyond Heaving Bosoms – The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell & Candy Tam

HorrorScience Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror – Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers – Edited by Laurie Lamson

The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction – Volume One – Edited by Dave A. Law and Darin Park

Concerning the Heavens – Crafting the Science Fiction Novel by Melissa Scott

Worlds of Wonder – How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by David Gerrold

Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy by Crawford Kilian

How to Write Horror Fiction by William E. Nolan

Writing Horror by Edo Van Beldom

Young AdultYoung Adult/New Adult

Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson

Writing & Selling the YA Novel by K. L. Going

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing for Young Adults by Deborah Perlberg

Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies by Deborah Halverson

Wild Ink – Success Secrets to Writing and Publishing in the Young Adult Market by Victoria Hanley

Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks

Godzilla – Still King of the Monsters

Why has Godzilla endured for so long? Why is there a new Godzilla movie coming out this month on May 16th 60 years after the first Godzilla movie was released in 1954?

I’ll be honest. I was never a big Godzilla fan. I’d seen some of the movies, of course, and I even went to the theater to see the 1998 remake starring Mathew Broderick, but I can’t say I’m a fan.

As a matter of fact, yesterday was the first time I’d seen the 1954 movie, which featured Raymond Burr who, interestingly enough, appeared in scenes that had obviously been spliced onto the original Japanese version.,The film does show its age but, for all that, it was still quite compelling. While watching the scenes of Godzilla lumbering through Tokyo leaving mass destruction in its wake, I couldn’t help but think that, instead of being focused on “wiping out the vermin, us”, to borrow a quote from Pacific Rim, Godzilla seemed kind of lost and confused. I know, weird, but that’s what I felt.

There were scenes that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Gulliermo del Toro borrowed for Pacific Rim. For example, Godzilla rampages through a train yard and there’s a similar scene in Pacific Rim when the mecha Gypsy Danger is battling a kaiju that’s come ashore.  And, while watching the 1954 Godzilla, I couldn’t help but think of the horrific devastation that occurred only nine years prior in 1945 when atomic bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which is I’m sure what motivated the filmmakers.

As has been noted in a recent NPR article about Godzilla, when the monster is finally defeated, there is a certain pathos to its destruction. Of course, as we all know, Godzilla rises again and again and again and subsequently goes on to appear in over two dozen films, with the newest version debuting this month.

Plus, there was this rather odd animated version  which came out in 1978.

I still haven’t yet decided if I’m going to go see the new Godzilla movie. I was totally underwhelmed by the 1998 version. Maybe I will. But, if I don’t, I’m sure I’ll catch it on Blu-Ray. Netflix is currently showing a slew of Godzilla movies, so if you’re jonesing for some Godzilla flicks, you can check them out there.

11 More Great Science Fiction & Fantasy Pets

My post yesterday about Data’s cat, Spot and Captain Archer’s dog, Porthos got me thinking about other animals in science fiction/fantasy movies and TV shows.

Here are eleven more of my favorites in no particular order:

1.  Einstein – Back to the Future 

Doc Brown’s dog Einstein was so beloved by the good doctor that it appears every dog he had, no matter the time period, he named Einstein.

2. Hedwig – Harry Potter

Loyal and fearless to the end, Hedwig was Harry’s companion through most of his years at Hogwarts.

3.  Ein – Cowboy Bebop

In the futuristic anime series, Cowboy Bebop, Ein (short, I’m sure, for Einstein) is a genetically enhanced Pembroke Welsh Corgi, who is very intelligent and immensely cute.

4. Hellboy’s cats

In the comics and the movies, there’s no doubt that the demonic looking Hellboy is a cat person. He loves cats. I mean, seriously LOVES cats.

5.  Jonesy – Alien 

Speaking of cats, is there any cat that was so loved by its owner? In the first movie of the Alien franchise, Ripley risks her life to go back for Jonesy even while there’s this acid-spitting, 8 foot tall murderous alien running about the ship. Now that’s devotion!

6. Toto – Wizard of Oz 

Not only does Toto get the plot going in Wizard of Oz (Dorothy runs away from the farm because that mean, dog-hating Elmira Gulch tries to take him away from her) but he’s loyal and brave and oh so cute.

8. Podo and Kodo – Beastmaster 

1982’s Beastmaster probably won’t go down in the annals of movie history as a great film, but it did have Marc Singer running around half-naked and he did have some really cool animals. He was, after all, master of beasts. The cutest, however, were his two ferrets, Podo and Kodo. They were like Toto. Brave and loyal and pretty cute to boot.

9. Tribbles – Star Trek

Tribbles, cute and fuzzy as they are, never really got on well with Klingons. They tended to go into a shrieking hissy-fit whenever one was around. As for the Klingons, they considered the troublesome creatures mortal enemies of the Klingon Empire and sent an armada of ships to destroy the tribble’s homeworld.

10. Gizmo – Gremlins

Another cute, fuzzy, adorable creature that proved to be quite troublesome. In the movie Gremlins, the father, after giving Gizmo to his son as a gift, tells him the three things he must do: (1) Keep it away from bright lights. (2) Never get it wet and (3) Never, ever feed it after midnight. Yes, you know what happens.

11. Direwolves – Game of Thrones

In Game of Thrones, all five of the Stark children get their own direwolf. So does Jon Snow, though he’s not a Stark, although he does have their blood. Rob has Grey Wind, Sansa, Lady, Arya’s direwolf is named Nymeria, Bran’s Summer, Rickon’s Shaggydog and Jon Snow’s Ghost. If you’ve been keeping up with either the books or the television series, you know the fates of some of these adorable pups. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Game of Thrones is Back!

Warning: If you haven’t seen Episode 1 of Season 4 of Games of Thrones yet, please be aware I’m going to talk about it. 

Game of Thrones is back! Yay! After a year wait we’re back in the land of Westeros but missing some notable characters with whom we had traveled for three seasons through Westeros. Namely more of the Starks. Catelyn and her son, the King in the North, Robb Stark, who were murdered at the infamous Red Wedding, which is going to prove interesting for the rest of the series.

Why? Well,although there are plenty of characters and storylines in the series, the Starks were the ones we were introduced to  first out of all of the families in Episode 1, Season1, a proud, noble family of Northerners whose family motto was a simple but evocative one: Winter is Coming. They were the characters most of us had been following to some extent and rooting for to avenge the death of Ned Stark back in Season 1.

The only remaining Starks are the youngest sons and daughters, all of whom have no real power, at least in the sense of military or political power, but who may be possessed, at least in the case of Bran and Arya, with powers that may prove far more important.

The first episode of a new season of Games of Thrones is kinda like old home week. We get to see where the characters are and what they’re up to since last season.

Jon Snow is reunited with the Night’s Watch but barely escaped being executed for killing one of the Night Watch members and breaking his vows by having had sex with Ygritte, his Wildling honey.

Daenerys is still across the Narrow Sea with her dragons, one of whom almost took a bite out of the Mother of Dragons when it thought she was interfering with its din-din.

Sansa Stark, now married to Tyrion Lannister, is dealing with the fact that her Lannister in-laws slaughtered her mother and brother and, as far as she’s concerned, making her the only Stark still alive. She has no idea of Bran, Rickon or Arya are even still alive.

Jamie Lannister has returned to King’s Landing, got a haircut and a shave, is back in his Kingsguard uniform, with the addition of a extremely gaudy golden hand to replace the right hand he lost in Season 3.

Joffrey is still as big of an asshole as he’s been since the beginning, even taken some nasty-minded swipes as his uncle (father), Jamie, and Ayra, oh, Arya, you and the Hound are fast becoming my all time favorite best-buds.

We were also introduced to a new character, Oberyn Martell, who is the brother of the wife of the former Prince of….oh, forget it, let’s just say he’s come to King’s Landing not just for Joffrey’s royal wedding. He’s got revenge on his mind with a great big capital R.

And we were also introduced to some other Wildlings called the Thenn. Really? The Thenn? Okay, well, anyway, they’re pretty creepy looking and in what is fast becoming a bit of a cliche, thanks to shows like Hannibal and the recent season finale of The Walking Dead, they’re cannibals. Not quite as much of a shocker as I think the show was hoping for.

So, all in all, not a bad first episode. The best scene was at the end with The Hound, that towering pillar of scarred testerone, taking on an inn full of Lannister soldiers and getting some help from Arya, who not only killed once again, but (yay!) got back her sword, Needle, that Jon Snow had given her back in Season 1. And her own horse, which she had been complaining to the Hound about not having.

So that last image of the episode was pretty cool with Arya and the Hound riding off together into a burning, devastated landscape.

The war is over, for now, with the death of Robb and the slaughter of the Stark soldiers along with the burning of Winterfell, but there are still many battles ahead.

Can’t wait for next week!

One Fun Way to Create Your Own World

world, world-building, top-down, bottom up

Microsoft Clip Art

I like science fiction, and fantasy, and horror. You’ve probably already guessed that from my blog posts.

So, today, because I’ve been really busy of late, I finally got a chance to delve into that book I mentioned some blog posts back.

Now Write!, Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror – Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers is chockfull of writing exercises if you’re interested in writing in any of those genres. And who wouldn’t be? 🙂 It’s so much darned fun!

I have a hard time building worlds. I love world-building when others have done it. The worlds created by authors such as Joan Vinge, Frank Herbert, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, etc, seem so real you can’t imagine that they’re not. These worlds are as much a character as the flesh and blood characters.

But I struggle with building worlds for my stories. It just seems so overwhelming! All that stuff you have to make up and create. Geography, religion, politics, magical systems, science, social systems, etc. Whew!

Middle Earth

There are actually two methods of creating worlds that seem to be recognized as de rigeur.  One method is the top-down system of world creation. This is what Tolkien did. He created Middle-Earth with all of its people, languages, customs, mythology, etc. before he wrote Lord of the Rings. He had it all in place. Jolly good for him. The idea of creating an entire cosmos, much less a world before I write, gives me a stomach ache.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t do it. If you can, I raise my goblet of mead to you. I just know I can’t.

But, thank goodness there’s another method. It’s the bottom-up system.

With the bottom-up method of world creation you start small. Perhaps with a town, a village, or a region and then you build out from there. Or, in my case, I like to start with characters. I try to imagine what kind of a world would be conducive to this character being the kind of person he or she is and then I ask myself what can I put in this world that will cause trouble for my character.

So, for example, if my hero is a pacifist and grew up in a community where war is considered wrong and killing a sin, I’d consider creating a world where he’s forced (or he chooses) to fight in a war and struggles with wanting to perform his duty as a soldier and yet also follow the tenets of his belief. I could set a story like that in a science fiction or fantasy setting. With just those ideas I’d have enough to start building my world. Still a lot of work ahead, but I have a place to start.

The movie, Sergeant York, released in 1941 and starring Gary Cooper, is a story about a man who initially starts out as someone who  likes to drink and fight. But then he gets struck by lightning, vows never to get angry again and winds up a soldier in World War I.  Now imagine setting that story in a futuristic or fantasy setting.

Marko, a featured character in the space opera comic Saga, is also a soldier who not only falls in love with an enemy combatant and has a child with her, but has become a conscientious objector to the galaxy wide war waged between his people and his wife’s people.

The sky, or your imagination, is the limit when it comes to creating worlds and the people or creatures who inhabit them.

One of the exercises in the Now Write! book is called Fact Into Fiction. It was created by author E. E. King

In the writing exercise King encourages the writer to look to fact when creating fiction, because in fact you can find some fantastic ideas for your speculative fiction.

I’m working on some aliens concepts for a series I have in mind. King suggests looking at senses that other creatures on this planet have in order to come up with ideas for your speculative characters. We know, of course, that humans experience only a fraction of what surrounds us and that the world looks a whole lot different to, say, a bat than it does to us.

So, while searching for information on animal senses, I found this website: Neuroscience for Kids

(Quick aside. Whenever you’re doing research for just about anything, books or websites for kids are a gold mine. The information is not only succinct but clearly written. You might find the information you need right off the bat or, if you don’t, it’s a good place to start).

Back to the website. Here are examples from it of some amazing animal senses.

  • Worker honey bees have 5,500 lenses (“ommatidia”) in each eye.
  • An earthworm’s entire body is covered with chemoreceptors (taste receptors).
  • A pig’s tongue contains 15,000 taste buds. For comparison, the human tongue has 9,000 taste buds.
  • Starfish arms are covered with light sensitive cells. Light that projects on an “eyespot” on each arm causes the arm to move.

Pretty cool.

With such information, wouldn’t it be fun to come up with an alien or a fantasy creature or even a human who has such senses? To be able to taste the wind, or see sound, or respond to light in such a way that it makes one run faster or even fly? Of course, comics are filled with such characters. They’re called superheroes. But with all the information available out there on biology, physics, sociology, etc. it’s a veritable cornucopia when it comes to researching facts for your fictional creations. 

And don’t get me started on reproduction. The various ways creatures on earth have sex will, seriously, boggle your mind. A good book to read if you’re interested is Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation.

Written in a hilariously quirky manner (the book is comprised of letters from various creatures seeking advice on sex) it details the sexual habits of everything from bullfrogs to butterflies. Honestly, if you’re creating aliens and need some ideas on their mating habits, this is the book to read.

The Best Movies about Arthur and His Knights

KnightYesterday, I talked about the movie Knightriders, which is George Romero’s take on the Arthurian legends, but with the knights riding motorcycles instead of horses.

Today I thought I’d list what I consider the best movies on King Arthur. I’ve been a fan of the stories of Arthur and Camelot since I read Mary Stewart’s book The Crystal Cave, which is actually the first book in her trilogy about Merlin and Arthur, which includes The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. The trilogy is told from the viewpoint of Merlin and was my first introduction to the world of Arthur and his knights. I highly recommend it.

If you want to find a list of movies and television shows based on the Arthur legends, Wikipedia has a list here.

The Knights of the Round Table – Released in 1953, it stars Robert Taylor as Lancelot, Mel Ferrer as Arthur, and Ava Gardner as Guinevere. Yes, that Ava Gardner. I’m not a big Robert Taylor fan, but this movie fits the decade in which it was released, with a lot of derring-do and pageantry.

The Sword in the Stone. This is Disney’s animated version from 1963. I saw this when I was  kid and it’s still one of my favorite animated versions of the Arthur legends.

Camelot – Based on the hit musical of the same name and released in 1967, this is a musical adaptation which stars Richard Harris (who went on to play Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies), Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot. This is another version with a lot of pageantry and singing of course. But the songs are great, Harris is wonderful as Arthur and the ending is one of my favorite of the Arthur influenced movies.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Best comedy ever about King Arthur. Actually, I think it might be the only one. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, put it on your must-view list. It was released in 1975

Excalibur – Released in 1981 and directed by John Boorman, this was probably the first of the Arthurian movies to get gritty, bloody and sexy. There’s nudity and sex in this film, bloody action and it also leaves no doubt that Arthur and Morgana got it on and produced Mordred. One of my favorite of the Arthurian films and features a young Liam Nesson as Sir Gawain and Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fey.

First Knight – Not one of my all-time favorites (I still think Richard Gere is too old to play Lancelot) but in relation to Sean Connery playing a much older Arthur than is usually shown in the films, I suppose it’s alright. If you see this movie and you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll see a younger Liam Cunningham playing the part of Sir Agravaine. In GofT Cunningham plays Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, and Stannis’ Baratheon’s right hand man. First Knight was released in 1995.

Merlin – 1998 saw Merlin brought to television as a miniseries. This film, like Stewart’s book, tells the story of Arthur from Merlin’s perspective. Merlin is played by Sam Neill (one of my fave actors) and features Isabella Rossellini as Nimue and Helena Bonham Carter as Morgan Le Fey. Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere don’t figure as prominently in the film as in other adaptations. They’re more of a backdrop to Merlin’s ongoing battle with his former mentor, Queen Mab, played by Miranda Richardson.

Mists of Avalon – The 2001 TNT miniseries is based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book of the same name. It stars Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Angelica Huston as Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and Joan Allen as Morgause. Mists is told from the viewpoint of the women involved in the Arthur legends and it’s one of my favorites.

King Arthur – 2004 saw the release of King Arthur, starring Clive Owen as Arthur, Keira Knightly as Guinevere, and Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot. This version tried to base the Arthur legend more in historical “fact”. Arthur and his “knights” are Romanized and Merlin is more of an adversary than an ally. This movie doesn’t entirely work for me on all levels, but the performances are good and the action sequences exciting.

Finally, and one of my favorite Arthurian adaptations, the BBC’s Merlin. Once again, the story of Arthur and his knights are told from the viewpoint of Merlin, but in this version Arthur isn’t even king yet when the series begins. He’s Prince Arthur and his father, Uther still rules. Magic is outlawed and punishable by death and Merlin, who comes to Camelot as a young man, must hide the fact that he does magic but he must also protect and help Arthur to fulfill his destiny and become king. The series plays around a lot with many of the tropes of the Arthur legends, which I liked. The Arthur stories don’t always have to adhere  to what’s been done before. They shouldn’t. That’s the beauty of the Arthur legends. 

Whether the knights ride horses or Guinevere starts outs as a servant, the stories of Arthur, Merlin, Camelot and the Round Table continue to be told for a reason and will continue to be told as long as there are storytellers to tell and people to listen.