Sep 072017

5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #10): Species

This is the tenth in a series of world building articles I’ll be sending you! Today’s theme is species. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Species,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Don’t Give a Species a Uniform Disposition”

Much of the tension in life, at least among us humans, is not knowing whether someone is good or evil, to be simplistic about it. Making invented species be uniformly one way or another makes them predictable, which is less interesting, but if we invent multiple races of them, this variety makes them more entertaining.

Tip #2: “Use Avatar Creators to Invent a Head”

A free, online avatar creator can help you invent faces that are typical of your invented species. This can help visualize something and be provided to an artist if we want someone to draw our creation. It also helps us avoid being unintentionally ridiculous.


Tip #3: “Create Races for Variety”

If all the elves, for example, look the same, that means a wood elf and drow can masquerade as each other. This gives us opportunities for mayhem that don’t exist if every race of a species looks the same. Besides, why not surprise other characters and readers alike?

Tip #4: “Decide How They Get Along With Everyone, Not Just Humans”

It’s easy to overlook how two invented species get along with each other because we’re trying to figure out how each gets along with humans. More thought given to this makes our world more believable and engaging. Envision each race’s viewpoint on how people should behave and then what they think of another race’s behavior. Read Creating Life to learn more.

Tip #5: “Determine Their View of Magic/Technology”

We should decide how educated a species is, as this may impact their ability to do magic or invent/use technology. If they can’t read and spells are hard to learn orally, they may be unable to cast them, unless they can do it without a spell, like a god. Even uneducated species can steal a space ship, for example, and those need janitors, too, so be clever in finding ways that the less fortunate can have power that maybe they shouldn’t!

Summary of Chapter 3—Creating a Species

Audiences are familiar with using “race” to distinguish between humanoids, especially in fantasy, but species may be a more appropriate term. This chapter explores the meaning and implications of both words, with some examples of which one to use, when, and why.

Creating a species is challenging and time consuming, but the risks and rewards can be navigated and achieved, respectively. This chapter helps us decide on our goals and if the effort is worth it. SF writers might have little choice but to create species because there are no public domain species available like the elves, dwarves, and dragons of fantasy. The benefits of creating something different can outweigh the investment and help our work stand out.

An invented species must compete with legendary ones like elves, dwarves, and dragons; this chapter helps us achieve this. Starting with habitat helps us decide on physical adaptations that affect their minds, outlook, and society, and what a typical settlement might be like and even whether or not they live in jointly formed settlements. Their disposition affects their relationships with other species but can also limit their usefulness to us unless steps are taken to avoid this. Characteristics like intelligence, wisdom, and dexterity all play a role in how they can be used in our work, as does their society and world view, both affected by a history we can invent to integrate them with our world. Their familiarity with the supernatural and technology influences their prominence and how they compare to other life in our world.

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Aug 262017
Creating Places (Vol. 2)

Creating Places (Vol. 2)

Now that the writing of Creating Places is largely finished and only needs editing, I’ve updated the table of contents (TOC) to reflect the final contents. This includes a new chapter on “Travel in Space” and some rearrangement of other items. This isn’t final as I might still move a few things, but you can certainly see what’s covered in volume two of The Art of World Building.

Aug 222017

Creating Places (Vol. 2)

You can now pre-order the Kindle format for Creating Places (The Art of World Building, #2), which will be published on November 14, 2017. Pre-orders don’t work for other formats, unfortunately, but the book will be available in paperback and ePUB as well. The audio book may be ready at that time, but I’m still working on the one for Creating Life.

The manuscript is almost done. Then it goes off to beta-readers for about 2-3 weeks, leading to a week or two of changes based on that feedback. Then it goes to my editor for another few weeks, then another week or two of me tweaking it. After that comes formatting, which takes another week.

I’m excited to get this volume done and move on to the finale, Cultures and Beyond, which is slated for spring of 2018. Meanwhile, you can expect audio books, a podcast, more blogging, and a big giveaway I’m arranging for the release of Creating Places.

Aug 222017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #9): The Gods

This is the ninth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is the gods. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 2, “Creating Gods”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Create a Pantheon”

A group of gods is more work to invent but offers opportunities for conflicts among the deities. These can reflect cultural and moral issues, such as myths about gods struggling in much the same way as people. Pantheons offer a good way to characterize our residents, as everyone might worship someone else.

Tip #2: “Make the Gods Vulnerable”

Beings that can’t be hurt or killed are less interesting. If you decide one is dead or wounded, determine how, who did it, and the impact this had on gods and mortals alike. Do they die from natural causes, too? For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #3: “Children”

Make your gods capable of reproducing, whether that creates more gods, demi-gods, or just super humans (or other species). This can give a world heroes like Hercules. It can even make a mortal woman want to seduce a god. Now there’s a story idea!

Tip #4: “How Does Time End?”

Decide how life as everyone knows it will end, even if you never use this in a story beyond someone mentioning your world’s Armageddon. It’s fun deciding how everyone will be destroyed. Find a good reason for it happening, whether it’s moral decay or something more physical. For ideas, read Creating Life.

Tip #5: “Create Myth”

Myths make a world more entertaining, but only invent them if there’s a chance they’ll be used. Self-publishers can use a myth as bonus materials in a newsletter, website, or short story.

Summary of Chapter 2—Creating Gods

Our species will invent gods to believe in even if we don’t invent them, so we may need some deities for people to reference in dialogue, whether praying or swearing. In SF, belief in gods may still exist despite, or even because of, advances in science. In fantasy, priests often call on a god to heal someone, and this requires having invented the gods. Pantheons offer advantages over a lone god, including dynamic relationships between them and the species. Half gods and demigods are other options that help us create myths and legends to enrich our world, especially if gods can be born, die, or be visited in their realm.

Myths about how the gods or species came to exist help people understand the purpose of their lives and what awaits them in death. Symbols, appearance, patronage, and willingness to impact the lives of their species all color a pantheon and world. Gods also create places people can visit or items that can fall into the wrong hands, offering possibilities for stories.

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Aug 082017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #8): How Many Worlds?

This is the eighth in a series of world building articles I’ll be sending you! Today’s theme is analogues. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 1, “Why Build a World?”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Determine Your Goals”

If you’re intending on a long career, maybe it makes sense to build one world extensively. Otherwise you might build 20 worlds for 20 books. Is that more or less work than one in-depth setting? Figure out your intentions.

Tip #2: “Use Extreme Worlds Sparingly”

Extreme worlds might best be suited to one-off stories due to the risks inherent in taking big chances with believability. Such places are ideal for SF when characters are planet-hopping. But there’s no reason characters in a fantasy setting can’t be using magic or portals to do the same thing.

Tip #3: “Be Earth-like Most Often”

For any setting that’s frequently used, it’s wise to make it Earth-like in many basic respects (gravity, light, oxygen, etc.) unless we really intend to feature the unusual features often. If we’re less into world building, this is the default approach. We can change a few things, like adding species similar to dwarves, elves, and dragons, while keeping the rest normal.

Tip #4: “Reclaim Wasted Time”

World building can be done in small bits. We don’t need to devote months on end like with a novel, where we can lose our train of thought if we stop. It’s a great way to reclaim lost time, like when standing in line somewhere – jot down ideas on your phone and flesh them out later. College often prevented me from writing, so I did world building in small bits, ten or thirty minutes at a time when I felt like it or had an idea.

Tip #5: “Don’t Get Overwhelmed”

Remember that world building is optional. Yes, we might need to create a setting, but we can essentially make it Earth by another name if desired. Don’t let world building become a chore or get overwhelmed by a big to-do list. Otherwise, you’ll just give up. World building is fun!

Summary of Chapter 1—Why Build a World?

While world building is expected in many genres of fantasy and SF, we must decide how many worlds to build. This will depend on our career plans and goals. Learn the advantages and disadvantages of building one world per story vs. one world for many stories, and when to take each approach. Sometimes doing both is best, allowing for greater depth in one world but the option to step away to keep things fresh. Using analogues can help us create believable societies quickly but has pitfalls that can be avoided. Do you have the ability to create many interesting worlds, and will they have enough depth to make the effort worth it?

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Jul 252017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #7): Undead

This is the seventh in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is undead. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 7, “Creating Undead,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide If You Need To Invent Undead”

Creating new undead is challenging because so many useful types exist and are public domain, meaning we can use them. Inventing something similar to an Earth analogue is ripe for ridicule as “just a vampire with insert-minor-difference-here,” for example. Make sure you really need your need undead’s skills, appearance, traits, or behaviors before creating them.

Tip #2: “Determine What the Undead Wants”

Everyone needs a goal in life, or in this case, undead life. But some undead are in denial about their status, so decide if it knows it’s dead and how it feels about that if so, or why it’s unaware. This can determine whether it wants peace, revenge, or has unfinished business that keeps it here.

Tip #3: “What Type of Undead Is It?”

Determine whether it’s spiritual or if it has a body, and what state of decay that body is in. That will help determine the impact it has on those who see or encounter it. Don’t be afraid to create undead plants and animals. If it’s alive, it can be dead. And if it can die, it can return.

Tip #4: “Decide Its Origins”

Did someone create your undead on purpose or by accident? We can use phenomena, technology, or magic to do this. Also decide if the undead can create more of itself, such as the way vampires do. This will determine their numbers, which in turn decides how much experience people have with it. That will decide if they know how to kill it.

Tip #5: “Can It Be Killed?”

Whether or not the undead can be permanently destroyed is what the living will most want to know about it, so make a decision. Then figure out how and when this can be done. Feel free to be inventive, as everyone loves a good death, including things that are already dead.

Summary of Chapter 7—Creating Undead

Many types of undead already exist and are public domain, and it’s challenging to invent something new. Undead are often classified by appearance and behavior, but it is also their origins and how they can be destroyed that will help distinguish our undead from pre-existing types. The two basic ones are those with a body, like zombies, and those without, like ghosts. Those with a body might have a soul or not. We can decide on the mental faculties of our undead by deciding if the mind goes with the soul, but there are other factors that can impair the minds and even emotional states of undead. All of these affect behavior, as do their origins, goals, and what they’re capable of.

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Jul 112017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #6): Plants and Animals

This is the sixth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is plants and animals. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 6, “Creating Plants and Animals,” from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Decide Whether to Invent Plants or Animals”

Learn the benefit of creating either and how to speed up the process using analogues or the templates below. In SF, we really need to invent them if characters are on other worlds where they will be different. Fantasy can get away with mostly Earth-like life with some additions if we have ideas. Creating Life can help you think of some.

Tip #2: “How Will You and Characters Use It?”

There’s no reason to invent something if we don’t have a plan for it. Both plants and animals are good for products to make life better. Create a list of these uses, such as decoration, food, medicine, entertainment, guards, pets, transportation, pets, and domestication. This will create goals for you to achieve with invention.

Tip #3: “Research Earth Analogues”

Creating plants and animals from scratch isn’t easy, so learn to model them on analogues from Earth. Researching even known ones can turn up surprising facts we didn’t know. These can be used as inspiration while freeing us to tweak details to our liking. That way, we don’t have to “get it right” because we’re the authority, not the truth.

Tip #4: “Understand Classifications”

Animals are classified as amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles, while plants are classified as seedless, seeding, and flowering. Understanding the differences can help us be specific and invent details that make our new life forms worth the time to invent. Creating Life includes extensive research that world builders need to know about this.

Tip #5: “Know Your Limits”

It’s usually best to invent only a few plants and animals for a setting simply because we won’t have much occasion to mention them. This is true of even worlds we’ll use for decades in a long, cherished career. In such cases, new life can often be invented on the fly, so this is an area of world building that is ripe for doing piecemeal rather than all at once.

Summary of Chapter 6—Creating Plants and Animals

In fantasy, creating plants and animals is optional due to expectations that the world is very Earth-like, but in SF that takes place away from Earth, audiences are more likely to expect new ones. It takes less time to create these than other life in this book, but we’ll want to consider our time investment, how often our setting will be used, whether our creations impact our work and the impression it creates, and whether the desire to do something unique and new is worthwhile for both us and our audience.

Plants and animals are classified into categories, such as cycads, conifers, and flowering plants, and amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles. The lifecycle of the former and the behavior of the latter help distinguish them and can be used to propel or inhibit stories involving them. While we may have purposes for them as an author, our world’s inhabitants have them, too, such as decoration and medicinal uses for plants, and domestication, sports, guards, pets and transportation for animals. Both can be used for food and materials to enrich life and our world.

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Jun 222017
5 World Building Tips (Vol 1, #5): Monsters

This is the fifth in a series of world building articles! Today’s theme is monsters. This will get you started, but you can read more about this in Chapter 5, “Creating Monsters”, from Creating Life, (The Art of World Building, #1).

Tip #1: “Do You Need Monsters?”

Our story might not need monsters, but in games, what else is there to kill but species and animals? Adventuring characters need threats to worry about, but a species/animal can suffice. The best reason to invent a monster is the reason they’ve historically been created: to instruct us in morality and other concerns about how to live. Find your theme and invent your monster.

Tip #2: “Determine What It Can Do”

A monster’s skills are often the reason it’s terrifying. Decide on one or two traits it uses to kill, hide, or terrify people (even if on accident). This should coincide with your purpose. Get started by fantasizing scenes of people hunting it, being hunted, or fighting it, and what signs of its existence it leaves behind.

Tip #3: “Understand the Difference between Monsters, Species, and Animals”

A species is a lot smarter than a monster, usually, a villain like Dracula being an exception, partly because he was once human and not dead for long. Animals differ in being numerous, whereas a monster is typically the only one of its kind. But we can break these “rules” once we think about them. Read Creating Life to learn more.

Tip #4: “Decide Where Your Monster Originated”

Accidents are an easy way to create monsters, especially in SF, where imaginary technology can wreak havoc. But magic and other supernatural forces can do the same. Consider whether someone created your monster on purpose, too, and for what reason? This can give us a world figure. Evolution might also have led to this creature’s existence. Determine its origins to create a well-formed monster.

Tip #5: “Decide What the Monster Wants”

Whether it’s food, revenge, security, peace and quiet, or to hoard treasure, knowing what the monster wants will determine its behavior and lair. Treasure is actually a silly thing to desire, given that money is only useful when we’re part of society, and a monster isn’t, by definition. Read Creating Life to consider other factors.

Summary of Chapter 5—Creating Monsters

The difference between monsters, species, and animals is largely sophistication and numbers. Many monsters are created by accidents that turn an existing species or animal into something else, but sometimes monsters are created on purpose. In the latter case it’s especially important to decide who caused this. A monster’s habitat has an impact on its usefulness and sets the stage for creating atmosphere and characterization that will largely define our audience’s experience with it before the terrifying reveal. Its motivation in life, or in our work, also determines what it does and the sort of trouble it’s causing for our species.

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