Thursday, September 30, 2010

Planetary Formation and Why It's Important

Many of you have already got an idea in your head of what you want your planet like, maybe what planets are around it. For everyone else, and those who are looking for inspiration everywhere, it may be good to decide how your planet formed. How it was formed can affect what minerals can be found on the planet, what the planet looks like, what the different climates are, what can grow on the planet, especially if Earth tries to colonize the planet, what animals could evolve on the planet, as well as where and how sentient species evolved and flourished.
A major question to ask here is if a thing of some sort created the planet for a reason or if the planet was a cosmic happening based on no actual plan. Remember, many species, judging by human cultures, will assume that everything happens for a reason and have a god of some sort in their infancy which they will may out grow by the time your story happens or they may avoid science by clinging to their “guiding hand”. (As a note, this blog is not a comment on human religion but an objective look at creating the best setting possible for your story. Many sci-fi species seem to go the way “educated” humans seem to go in saying science proves there is no god so faith in one is unnecessary.) Although religion will be a different topic, now would be a good time to decide if magic is in your world. If you wish magic to be powerful in your world it can change the natural order of things as I’ll explain things and as you go through this series you may want to keep magic in mind and how it changes the evolutionary process, same goes for if something created the planet. The Bible says that God created Earth with age. Humans were there on the sixth day the universe existed. That skips a lot of steps and means God plans really quick to form the center of the Earth, the moon, the sun, all the other stars with their possible systems, ecosystems, animals adapted to their habitat, and the complexities of humans in six days. (Unless He worked a lot of things out later which is contrary to traditional Christian belief.) Many polytheistic religions have gods creating Earth by dream or thoughts or something getting split into pieces and the planet forming from the pieces or from the act of the destruction (such as something died so something was born). If you wish the scientific reason for the planet to be a god or magic, keep that in mind while reading the rest of this series as gods are fickle in myths and often change the evolution of things.
The most accepted theory is nebular hypothesis which claims that the star comes first and particles surrounding the star eventually combine enough to create terrestrial planets, or planets like Earth that can theoretically contain life similar to ours. So why is planetary formation so important? It can create the building blocks for the minerals on the planet, which I will speak about next blog.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


I will admit that this series is not built on any template I thought up on my own. I tend to develop settings as the story progresses and then having my readers comment on things I forgot to change in the beginning. People keep saying that being organized makes things so much easier so I am working on writing from outlines and having already fully developed characters and settings before writing the story. It is rather different from my usual way of making up the nuances of a character or setting as I write but it also seems to extend the process. Now while I’m still working on plot points I can be thinking about my characters’ backgrounds and my settings and stay excited about a story.
I recently read The Complete Guide to Writing Science Fiction: Volume one First Contact and discovered the article called Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede. Both are excellent sources and I highly recommend and science fiction writer look at them but this series is my template. I took what I usually use, added in ideas from both of those writers and will now present my version to you over the next few weeks.
This series is designed to focus on world building. I know most people start out with an idea of what you want your planet or setting like. I’m going to give you more questions and examples to help you flesh out your basic idea and make it flow smoothly with your story.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Importance of the Setting

Settings are very important to a story. They ground the story and add that extra layer of realism. A good setting transports the reader seamlessly into the story. Without a good setting the reader sees the characters interacting in the imagination as if in a fog. The setting gives the reader a picture to fill in around the characters, whether it is a park in Paris, a kitchen in a farm town in Iowa, or the middle of a bazaar on a space station light years from Earth. It allows the character to act and often to react to what the plot or other characters throw at the characters in each scene. After all, the food vendor at the bazaar has just the right juicy oranges to throw at the retreating back of the man that just shattered your character’s heart. In other ways the setting can force a reaction, such as a falling beam or how many flammable things are in the room. A fire will spread faster in a kitchen with wood cabinets and tabletops versus a kitchen with metal cupboards and stone tabletops.
I like to think of my settings as characters and give them at least as much time in development. (I will admit to often getting absorbed and giving my setting much more thought than most of my characters. There are just so many things to think about, as I will show you in the coming days.) Know the appearance of the setting, all its colors and shapes, dimensions and the layout of furniture. Know all the sounds surrounding it, such as the train that passes every half hour or the fog horns that can be heard from the nearby harbor, and the smells nearby, such as the lilac bush by the windows or the noodle factory in town.
However, be careful not to overdo it. Does the reader really need to know about the order of the books on the shelf or the dog crap that litters the neighbor’s yard? Not unless it pertains to the story. Often the setting can be used as a distraction. How many times have you focused on what you were doing or where you were going to avoid thinking about something or responding to something? That is how some people react as is how they play with something. Maybe your girl fiddles with a decorative ball when nervous or throws pitchers when angry. The most important thing to remember about setting is to be consistent. That ball your girl may play with on the porch is more likely to be an orange in the kitchen or a pine cone in the woods. Usually people don’t bring things to fiddle with along in their pockets so having her suddenly have a tennis ball in her hand at a bar or at work would take some explaining.
With all these things to keep in mind, creating your setting may seem daunting. For people who set your stories on Earth, learning your setting may be as simple as visiting somewhere for a week or walking down the street. For those of us who write science fiction stories, creating our settings adds a number of questions others don’t need to think about. Over the next few weeks I will try to give Sci-Fi writers some extra guidance on things to think about whether creating a new planet, sailing the stars in a space ship, or merely getting the minute details of a single room right. Welcome to my guide on world building and I hope this is helpful to you.

Friday, September 24, 2010

15 things to remember when creating your fictional character:

How does ethnicity affect your character?
What education does it have?
How has family affected who your character is?
How have certain memories affected its development?
How has its appearance affected your character?
What addictions or major flaws does it have?
What mannerisms does your character have?
How is its posture?
What are some of your character’s habitual mannerisms?
What are its hobbies?
What is your character’s job?
What are some subtle ways it shows emotion?
What motivates your character?
What secrets does it hold?
How does your character grow throughout the story?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Secrets affect everyone

Everyone has secrets, whether it’s that they killed someone or were molested years before or even that they accidentally broke the expensive vase their mother-in-law gave them as a wedding gift. Each secret, no matter how small or large, affects their relationship with someone. A man who has killed another may always be looking over his shoulder, slightly paranoid to an extent or may crave another kill. A child molested may have trouble connecting emotionally or trusting and may go from lover to lover all their life unless someone can get through to them. Breaking the mother-in-law’s expensive vase may mean your character doesn’t invite her over or has to invent reasons the gift isn’t on display. Many secrets kept are things the character has done or had done to them but people also have “family skeletons,” things their family did that they don’t talk about, like that their grandfather or uncle was a well known domestic terrorist or not talking about the death of a sibling. Such secrets can separate families or cause tension at gatherings. Maybe the gatherings are awkward because of the many silences at the table. Maybe they’re awkward because everyone tries so hard to be cheery to avoid the conversation they most need.
When thinking about your fictional character, remember everyone has secrets. Know its secrets and you’ll learn another motivation in your character’s life. Can you think of how some of the secrets in your life have affected you or the relationships you’ve had with others?

Monday, September 20, 2010

How does your character grow?

People read stories to be taken away from their life for a while and see other people overcome things. They want to see a character do something amazing or entertaining. However, most readers don’t merely want to read the last few chapters to know the climax, they want to read about the journey it took to get there. Stories are written about people doing things in the final chapter that they couldn’t do in the first one, for whatever reason. Each story tells about a journey taken because it had to be but rarely is the character the same when they finish as when they began. Think of your favorite books or movies, think about how each one was about a character finding the courage or the facts to face a giant of some sort, whether it be the ability to face the future as a child becomes an adult or the courage to face a fear or stand up to a bully or evil person. In each case the character refused to face that giant in the beginning of the story for some reason. Something forced them to try and later something made them resolved to win. Does your story have that same character growth or is the reader going to read it and realize that the beginning and the climax were cool but there just wasn’t any reason to read it again, no reason for them to cheer for the character. Very few stories can work without showing the reader the struggle the character is having and making your reader long for victory. While your story may be one of the few that don’t need character growth, I’d recommend making sure the reader won’t be left wondering why they just bothered to read that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What motivates your character?

Everyone has a plan, whether it’s to live with mom and dad until they die and inherit the house or be rich by twenty-five, and your characters are no different. Your story can be about how they got to their goal or you can tell how they got interrupted and changed their plan. Or maybe your character doesn’t want to plan their future, they don’t want to think about change and growing up. Whatever your thoughts are on the character, it helps to know where they want to go and if/when that plan changes. Where do they want to go in their career, in their relationships? Is the career to be their life or are they hoping to get rich off their hobby and the career is just a backup while they work on their hobby? Are they looking for a spouse or just a good time? Do they want to learn a new language or a new hobby? Are they happy with who they are or want to be or are they searching for something new to fill a void they don’t understand?
Then there are the goals they don’t dig deep enough to find: to be loved, to be popular, to be a recognized expert. Those are things they may not admit or that they think go without saying so they never say them but those desires are as driving, often more so, than the goals people strive for in career, relationships, and personal development. So what motivates you character? What motivates you?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Emotions in story.

Emotions could very easily be a whole different series but I’ll just briefly touch on emotions in a book. You don’t always have to tell your reader what the characters are thinking. Often hints through facial expressions or body language or dialogue can go over easier with a reader than constantly being told that this character feels this way, then it feels like this, then it does this because it feels that. Such writing can be informative but sometimes readers like to figure things out on their own. After all, they are reading instead of watching a movie that tells them what to think. Keep that in mind every once in a while and let the reader make their own conclusions about what is going on. Since you’re writing from the perspective of one character, to an extent, it may be possible to mislead the readers as well. How many times have you watched your friends talk and thought you knew exactly what was going on only to realize later that they were talking about something else completely or that there was an undertone you didn’t understand? That can happen in books as well although I would suggest care as misleading the reader can only be done if the reader is willing to forgive you for it later if it is believable.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What does an occupation say about people?

Something else to ask yourself is what is your character’s profession? What does that say about your character? Often your plot will dictate what job your character has but you may want to spend some time thinking if that job is really the best job for the plot. Once you have to decide what traits your character had to have to get those traits. If your character is high up in the military or in business you know it has to be motivated and have a strong persona, unless favoritism was involved. If your character has been very low level worker for a number of years you know it has little motivation or is too honest to get promoted. Or else the job is very hard to get promoted in, which could make the character rather bitter. If your character works with kids than they must have a good imagination to understand the kids as well as a lot of patience and kindness. If the person is a sales person than they’d better hope they are a good people person or at least be able to fake it. If your person is a college professor they are likely very intellectual while a preschool teacher is likely very playful. When you think of a job, be sure you don’t have a character that is happy with their job if their personality doesn’t fit the job they’re in. What does your job suggest about you?