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Intro

  • Get all of your ideas down; as it changes, write that down.
  • 20 people in attendance

Worldbuilding & Character - Anna Gabrielli (OddSoul)

Genres of participants

  • Fantasy ...
  • Mystery .
  • Thriller
  • Dystopian humorist
  • Womens ficiton
  • Historical
  • thriller SF
  • modern day FS
  • YA Contemporary Fantasy
  • Speculative ficiton
  • Memoir
  • General
  • Horror/adventure

Objectives

  • Providing you with tools to approach your story in different ways

Story

  • Plot
  • Character
  • Setting - provides a context for the story
  • Conflict is the story glue that ties the other three elements together (they grow and change and play off each other)
    • the way the characters interact with the world and each other
    • the tension that results

Worldbuilding approaches

  • Build the macro aspects of the world first
    • elements are well-integrated and make sense
    • BUT it is very time-consuming and it delays story development (worldbuilder's disease)
    • when you craft everything, it becomes TOO logical
  • Bottom-up - build the character or plot first
    • immediately useful for storytelling
    • only necessary details
    • BUT can develop inconsistencies
    • AND it can feel shallow
  • Top down and bottom up combination
    • immediately useful for storytelling
    • maintains overall consistency
    • BUT can also be time-consuming

Top down approach

  • Differences with developing a real place vs. fantasy places (in your own head)
    • real world places require more research
    • you can focus the areas of research depending on what your character does and what your story will be
  • How do you figure out what to put in, what to leave out when planning your novel? Hard to judge of what goes into 50K words
    • put everything in; when you revise it, you can add in other things
    • focus on the essential story
  • Two aspects
    • physical setting - things that exist even without people
      • natural setting aspects: plains, islands, trees, flora/fauna, moons, planets, climate, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans
      • this affects the cultural things (e.g., islands will have more isolated cultures; different food and clothing if the climate is warm or hot)
    • cultural setting - things that exist BECAUSE of people
      • language
      • architecture
      • clothing
      • food
      • customs / traditions
      • religions
      • political institutions
      • governments
      • art
      • social classes
      • gender
      • education
      • age
  • Choose 2 or 3 elements that you find fascinating--what do you want to write about? (will help you stay interested in your story), then build your world around these things.
    • mountains
    • food
    • art
    • maybe the mountain region is difficult to live in
    • Santa Fe
    • gourmet food presented as a piece of art
    • compostable art made out of food
    • cook who wants to be an artist
    • reality tv cooking contest where people have to make mountains out of food
    • foraging for food
  • Goal: extrapolate as much as possible
    • who would inhabit this world? What would they know about the world?
    • who would benefit from the structures of the world? Who would struggle? Who would love it? Who would hate it?
    • if difficult to find food on the mountain, everyone would struggle; people who enjoy nature might
    • How could the system be exploited?
    • What kinds of jobs exist?
    • Think about the little things and every day things--these are what your character interacts with the most
  • Look for sources of conflict
    • the character with the most at stake = the main character

Go Deeper rather than broader

  • Show a fewer number of things more deeply rather than a wider number of things.
  • These smaller number of things well-explored will feel wider than a large number of shallowly-explained htings
  • Focus on how story/character intersects
  • Show the implications/ramifications
    • how/why
    • smaller details will imply the larger world aspects
    • this will give a broader sense of the world
  • More details can be layered in later if necessary
  • Things the character and the reader can experience first hand; the way the character feels about those things will imply the larger picture of the world.
  • Not everything needs an explanation or can be explained (it can't)
    • there are limitations of science and knowledge; historical stories have been lost or purposely destroyed
  • Think about what your character would know about or care about.
  • Follow the awesome (what are you interested in)

Activity: Top down worldbuilding -- going deeper - guided brainstorming

  • an island
  • dragons on the island
  • dragons are to be feared but also reverenced
    • dragons are gods
  • dragons have taken people
    • why? to be their servants or slaves
    • maybe they take representatives (sacrificed) - strongest, prettiest, smartest
  • not allowed to kill the dragons
  • advanced society takes advantage of the less advanced people
  • slaves work with the dragons, have intimate knowledge and understand/respect dragons more than the common people
  • Where are the resources?
    • fresh food; people -> above
    • engineering, metals, chemicals -> below
  • climate is more hostile above ground
  • Below-ground is safer but no fresh food
  • Upper class is below
  • dragons are picky eaters; they need people to prepare food for them
    • dragons are herbivores (vegetarians)
  • uprising from those above the ground
  • culinary schools down below
  • chief of the tribe up above benefits from the fear of the dragons
    • people with the missing kids don't like the status quo
  • dragons like the status quo
    • farming dragons in the end
  • People who don't like living underground aren't happy
  • inciting incident
    • chief's child disappears--rigs the selection so that she was chosen
      • she got to know one of the dragons (mutual respect)
  • complication
    • someone up above who loves the chief's daughter wants to lead a raid on the dragons to rescue her
    • someone down below has come to love the chief's daughter (after she arrives)
  • group 1
    • people who live on a river (crafts aren't powerful enough for the oceans)
      • an ocean
    • land people have a more expansive world with easier resources than the river people
    • two moons: river people honor one; land people honor the other
    • boats are very important to them (an art form that is familial)
    • house boats created over time (take pride)
    • river people: believe that it is safe to leave the river when their moon is full.
    • river is in a ravine (cliffs to get to resources on the land they need for their boats)
    • if river people explore when not a full moon, they can be enslaved (but they don't know what happen to the river people who disappear); they are then considered dead to the river people.
    • fishing is one of the most important productions
    • an astrologer helps to track the moons; there will be periods of time when both moons are full (dangerous)
  • group 2
    • we, too, have a river
    • Riverwalk in Naperville
    • years ago was a quiet place for nature; now there are restaurants, kayaks, tourists and crime
    • find a dead body in the Riverwalk
    • person is a worker in the Naper Settlement, a blacksmith
    • there are people who love enjoying the Riverwalk; there are others who live 10 minutes away but stay away because of tourists
    • expanding and tearing down the library; protests
  • group 3
    • Victorian England
    • Language and Art (Dickens, Austen)
    • fog
    • cityscape
    • class
    • conflict: out of class and what would happen if Jane Austen got stuck in the slums of the city
    • why would she be stuck there as an upper class lady?
    • having to write letters and not having phones or electricity
    • conflict between Austen's Victorian world and Dicken's Victorian world

Bottom Up

  • Going from something smaller and building the larger world around the smaller details
  • Build character first
    • Questionnaires
    • Profiles?
  • You can put characters into different situations, generating a lot of stories
    • having a strong character really helps
  • There are many character building tools, asking questions about trivial things
  • I like building characters on the bigger things
    • what they are afraid of (you can make them face that fear)
    • what they love (you can put this at risk)
    • what they are afraid of
    • what situations make them feel least at ease
    • biggest vulnerability
    • what makes the character feel real is how they interact with other characters (knowing how other characters see that character) -- other characters seeing how that person is
    • characters can be different people around other people or in differrent settings
    • what places do characters go to when they want to feel at ease
    • where do they spend most of their time
    • what do their spaces look like
  • When you have a basis for a character's fear, you can ask HOW and WHY
    • what kind of world would make a character feel that way
  • We are all products of our environment and our experiences; they affect how a character sees the world
  • Does the character fit in or stand out in the world?
    • what makes them uncomfortable?
  • What places are important to the character? Who might be present there?
    • everyday places
    • emotionally charged places: love/hate/avoid
    • developmental places: milestones, memorable vacations, etc.
  • You can write a character in a prequel to your novel; this can help instantiate them.
  • Do some freewriting on the character in your head (doesn't have to be interesting). What do they notice or feel about the world.

Scene Settings Add up

  • Brainstorm scene settings
    • what makes sense for your character (what places would your character want to go) and story
    • what does the character need? What are the character's goals?
    • use the emotional impact on a character to brainstorm scenes
    • go with the obvious and convenient place ONLY when you have to (better to choose something unique)
    • details give clues to a greater sense of the world. E.g., a scene in a character's house, the type of decor, small details will build a sense of the whole house and the character's reactions to that. E.g., express a character's dissonance with a house if they have a bad relationship with a parent in that home.
  • Look for conflict and complications between a character and their environment
    • how can the world make things harder for the character
    • obstacles, people who might provide tension with the character
    • how comfortable does the character feel in that place?

Activity: Building up from scene settings

  • Make the scene unique (e.g., based on time of day, season)
  • What kinds of people might exist in that setting
  • Something from the character's past that would make this more personal
  • Kingdom, character has to flee (parents killed); ultimately, she wants to return
  • at the very beginning
  • she and her twin brother are two years old; parents still alive
  • open the kingdom to the world around them (trade), inviting others
  • then a group wants to take over the kingdom (kill the king)
    • they instill fear in the kingdom
    • marries the queen then kills her
    • royal guard saves the kids, give them new identities (5)
  • the kids see the mom killed
  • in the castle, the guy has married their mom
  • normal day after that
  • two of them have to go to sleep (in their bedroom)
  • midnight
  • Leader of queen's guard comes into the room and say they have to leave
  • as they are sneaking out, the mom was the one who commanded her guard to do this
  • they see their mom talking with the group of bad men; the husband killed the queen with a kitchen knife
  • he wants sexual relations with her but she refuses
  • palace
  • kids are in the palace wall (cracks in the mortar) in the brick
  • dark back there
  • head of the guard claps hands over the mouths of the kids
  • kids are trained to not reveal any sounds; or sister claps a hand over her brother mouth
  • they thought it was a rat
  • the princess had earlier taken her brother through this tunnel for fun
  • group 4
    • main characters are a brother and sister (5-7)
    • parents are king and queen in a kingdom
    • king and queen open up the kingdom for trading and cultural exchanges
    • a group of people from another country enter with bad intentions
    • kill the king in secret
    • leader forces queen to marry him
    • he wants her, but gets frustrated and wants to kill her
    • the kids go to sleep one night, around midnight, the leader of the palace guard was sent by the queen to get the two kids out of the kingdom
    • the kids are being escorted out of the castle, taking a secret tunnel the brother and sister played in
    • they see their mom with the leader; he gets frustrated and kills her
    • two kids see their mom die
    • they have to leave, dealing with the grief and shock that happened where they had happy memories
  • group 2
    • detective who hangs out at the Empire bar, the roof
    • bartender keeps Old Style on tap, only beer he likes
    • it is upstairs, November (quite cold)
    • he's the only one there, there are Christmas decorations (aggravating, it is Nov beginning)
    • distracted by the sound of a dish breaking in the kitchen
  • group 4
    • young lady in Victorian England, visiting from somewhere else
    • late in the day in the market, England fog rolls in, she is separated from her family
    • falls into the Thames (filled with sewage)
    • rescued by a group of 12 year old boys (thinking they would get a reward)
    • she has no money to offer them; they take off; she follows them back to where they live (tent city)
    • other women there see she is dressed better; they take her clothes and give her their clothes
    • she is stuck there--doesn't know how to get back (but she comes from a completely different level of society)
  • group 1:
    • superheroes
    • two part room: new superheroes are brought in; tested on one side of a glass wall
    • one is hanging mistletoe in the observation area
    • they bring in a new superhero
    • they give him a serum to calm him down, breaks wall, reptile man (best superhero) is slowed because of the cold
    • kids escaped
    • hates Christmas, goes to the mall to kill Santa
    • feels a bit out of place in the Mall
    • he notices that Santa's elf is a lost love of his. She manages to talk him down.
    • "you used to work at the footlocker, I work at the ..."
    • "Thank God we've connected again"
    • go to the winter formal (she in her Elf outfit, he covered with broken glass)
    • he discovers she is actually an elf but pretended to be human so she could go to high school