Writing

Creating Believable Worlds Through Setting and World-Building: 6 Things To Include

Writers across the board know that great fiction is character driven. But something most writers don’t know is that amazing fiction treats setting like a character. Your world building is just as important as your character development because it literally sets the scene for everything that transpires in your story. For some of your stories, the setting will be a factual place or a place that could be factual. For others, the setting is going to be wholly made up and fictional, with it’s own “rules” and feel.

They key to doing this is to be clear about how much your readers can intuit, and making everything else vivid enough to place them there. Here’s how you do that.

 

Macro-locations

This will likely be the overarching and least specific part of your novel’s setting. If you think of your novel as scenes revolving in different rooms of a house, the house itself is your macro-location. So if your story is about a suburban kid, your macro-location would be the country he’s living in (and gives your reader a general sense of the culture in which he resides, as France has differences from the USA which has differences from the Phillipines). If your novel takes place on a different planet or completely fictional world, that’s your macro. Factual places have predetermined and universal cultural nuances, but for fictional places, you as the writer should spend time thinking about what those nuances are and how to incorporate them into the story without telling the readers outright what they are.

 

Micro-locations

In the story-as-a-house analogy, your micro-locations would be the rooms. These are more vividly drawn and specific. A micro might be your character’s house. Your reader should be able to imagine it by the way you describe it; what color are the curtains? Does it feel like just a house, or like a home? Does it smell like fresh baked cookies or like mildew and neglect? Readers should be able to glean a lot from how your character feels about and reacts to your micro-locations, and a great deal can be foreshadowed by the state of them if you, as a writer, do your job utilizing them in contrasting and comparative ways.

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Demographics

It’s insightful for readers to have a backboard for where your tale takes place. Is it all human? Is there a racial majority, and how does your character fit into that (or not)? Are there aliens or other sentient species? What sort of tension exists between the different demographical sectors and how does it relate back to your characters? Everything from the predominant financial state to education level will be relevant and can be introduced subtly through descriptors like the general look and upkeep of the neighborhood or how your characters and the supporting cast speaks.

Culture

We touched on this in the macro-location section, but the cultural norms in your setting paint a colorful picture of not just how your character fits into their world, but also the world itself around them. Stories that feature magic or non-factual elements will spend a lot of time on this and should take into account how these elements work (readers typically like to know there is some rhyme or reason for why and how things work the way they do and what rules they adhere to). But the culture itself in any story is important. Is it culturally acceptable in your setting for people to dispose of trash in the street, or to recycle? To watch TV all day or spend most of their time at work? To value children or their careers? Create a vivid landscape and activities and landmarks that your characters would easily recognize to anchor the story in that location.

Contrasts in Locations

Because stories should move your character along a path to change, your locations should provide ample contrast to move him or her throughout the story. Not every micro-location should be safe and cozy. Let your world move throughout a range of locations and settings to provide danger or unease. It aids in character progression as they encounter very different locales that push their comfort and incites their fear/pain reactions.

Having contrast allows you to reveal your characters’, well, characters. Are they the type to run from danger? Are they the type to pull together closer with a loved one in an unknown location for safety or protection, or push away from each other in the comfort of the familiar?

Experiment with differing locations. Counter a nature setting with a cityscape. A dark, sinister place with a comforting, playful one. Give your story dimension and space for your characters to move in and explore.

Just as you can’t have all of your characters act the same way or have the exact same personalities, don’t let your settings all evoke the same emotions.

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The Details, Large and Small

A common misstep made my new writers is to create a detailed world in which only the overarching details are evident. Dystopian writers may focus heavily on the disparity of their world and reveal the catastrophic government influences it wreaks upon the poor citizens it rules, but your reader won’t be able to connect with that. Give them finer details, too. In the climate of that dystopian world, what are the personally experiencing? Their clothing, their food, their neighborhood in that dystopian state or country. The things your characters personally feel and see and hear and touch provides a personal entry into that world and gives meaning to the overall details you create. Make sure you have both large scale details about the world and small scale details that expand on them throughout your story.

Takeaway:

Your setting is an integral but often overlooked part of your novel that deserves attention to really make the story pop.

What part of setting development do you find makes the most impact in your favorite novels? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

Writing

How to Develop Great Characters

Today’s topic of interest is character outlining and development. Let’s dive in!

Character Development

Plot is crucial to good novels, but truly great works aren’t just plot-driven, they’re character-driven. The key to a phenomenal story is richly developed and flawed characters with depth.

To create characters that evoke strong reader reactions, you must have a strong foundation for not just your protagonist, but for your entire cast of characters, even those that provide supporting roles and “background noise.” While you certainly shouldn’t info dump every piece of information you build your characters up with (using too much information and background on minor characters, for example, leads the reader to believe supporting characters are more important to the story than they really are and creates imbalance), you as the writer will intrinsically write deeper characters having a full, rounded view of their lives and pasts.

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Before beginning your story, you should have a complete understanding of the following elements for each cast member:

Weaknesses:

Every character must have a weakness. Stories are about change, and change can’t occur unless there are characteristics that are flawed. Flaws facilitate, or stunt, growth, and that struggle not only makes the reader feel invested in your protagonist, antagonist and supporting characters and their journeys, but makes the story feel realistic.

Flaws in your main character can be presented as either psychological (those that hurt your protagonist) or moral (those that cause your protagonist to hurt others), or as a combination of the two. And while superficial flaws add depth (clumsiness, a bum leg, etc.), a deeper flaw should be present to move the story along and should ultimately be present in all of your characters, because they all believe they’re the protagonist of the story, anyway.

Goals:

Every character should exist because they want something. That desire propels the story along, and fighting the obstacles along the way creates conflict. And because the entire cast thinks they are the hero of your story, every character has a goal. For some, that may be to protect a friend, or go on an adventure, or to eliminate a perceived foe that threatens their livelihood or beliefs.

When your characters stop having goals, they’re dead weight and their story is over.

Wants:

Wants in your story should be, to your characters, the “thing that attaining their goal will fix”. However, just like in Disney’s remake of the Frog Prince, nine times out of ten your character will be dead wrong about that. Because they’re chasing their wants to fill the void in their lives, attaining their goals only leads to the realization that what they want is not, actually, what they need.

Needs:

Tying it all together, the characters have interior weaknesses causing them to need healing. By chasing their wants and achieving goals that only provide a Band-Aid to the void, they discover that what they truly need is deeper, and that the only way to fully heal is to change by confronting the truth and fixing the psychological or moral issue within themselves (which should also coincide with them confronting and “winning” an external plot element). Typically, this means confronting a deep-seated fear or past, or dealing with the very thing they hate and try to avoid.

Disney’s Tiana wants to buy the restaurant. She needs to allow herself to slow down and love and be loved. This realization helps her confront her past and her current situation (characterization), and become her “true self”, and she then becomes a changed person.

A fantastic story is one that shows these moving parts in every character to varying degrees.

“And they all knew what they wanted,
What they wanted me to do,
I told ’em what they needed,
Just like I be telling you.”

-Mama Odie, The Frog Prince

Creating a character chart: 

Because each character will differ from the rest in appearance, past, personality, attitude and traits, its useful to create a character chart for each. Again, not all of this information will be revealed to the reader, but it is useful to develop a good understanding of your characters that will inevitably bleed into your writing.

Useful information includes name, age, appearance (hair/eye color, skin tone, race, height, weight, build, distinguishing physical features), family information (members, relationship status and standing), childhood, fears, motivations, background information, financial status, attitude, talents, flaws, and favorite/least favorite preferences.

(Get our printable, fill-in free character chart and all of the current Master Lists for Novelists here!)

Takeaway:

Don’t put your characters into a box. There is no “good guy” or “villain”, just like in reality there is seldom only black and white, but instead varying shades of gray. Character development is the process of uncovering your cast and creating a realistic environment for your readers. Define them by their personalities and them define the roles they play. Allow them to be more than two-dimensional, breathe life into them and your readers will want to follow their stories.

How do your characters stack up? What’s an area of character development you need to work on to get the most out of your stories? Comment and let us know!freestocks-org-425059

Writing

Ways to Outline Your Novel

Thanks for joining us! Today we’re going to be discussing where most writers choose to begin their journey in writing fiction; the outline. (To streamline your outlining, download our free outline template pack here. For other free Novel Writing & Editing master list templates, sign up here!)

Writers are typically cast into two different camps on this topic. You have the “pantsers” (those who “fly by the seat of their pants” and do minimal to no outlining before putting pen to paper) and you have the “plotters” (those who do extensive outlines before delving into their projects). While most traditionally published authors tend to be plotters, there’s something to be said for each style and ultimately it depends upon the writer’s personal style.

If you’re a pantser, you’ll effectively skip this part (though you may like the Draft Zero Method!). However, if you’re a plotter, there are a number of outlining methods you can use, or you can use a combination of methods to flesh out your major and minor plot points before beginning your writing.

The Traditional Outline

For structured writers, the traditional approach is often the go-to method for outlining. Using this method, you divide your novel into individual chapters and summarize the story arc in each one in a few sentences. You will get the general feel for each chapter and can easily see the trajectory of your plotlines using this method. Some writers will do this outlining on index cards, to make it easier to shuffle things around as they see fit.

The Three-Act Outline

Another favorite of the structure-loving writer is the three-act method. Instead of dividing the novel into chapters, this approach divides the novel into acts; Act I generally introduces the primary conflict, Act II introduces the turning point and climax, and Act III resolves the conflict.

The Hero’s Journey Outline

Like the Three-Act method, the Hero’s Journey breaks the novel into three parts. This is a popular method for fantasy and science fiction writers (Star Wars is a prime example), and typically has the protagonist refuse a call to action in Act I, be thrust into a series of trials in Act II, and “win” in Act III.

The Freytag Outline

This method breaks the story into not three parts but five; Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement. Because it’s not as structured as most other methods, this is for the writer who has a little pantser in them.

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The Synopsis Outline

Very unlike the previous methods which break novels up into bite-sized pieces, the Synopsis Outline is a running summary of the novel in its entirety without scene or chapter breaks. This is an incredibly useful method for writers who want to submit their work to agents and publishers, if for nothing more than to have a novel synopsis for their submission packages.

The Snowflake Outline

The Snowflake Outline focuses on “building up.” It begins with a one-sentence summary of your story, from which you expand to summaries of your characters, settings, scenes, storylines, goals, conflicts and resolutions.

The Draft Zero Outline

Pantsers who want to try outlining tend to love the Draft Zero method, because it focuses on speed rather than limiting oneself to formulas. This is really just a super-fast write-through of your story, getting out the general story as quickly as possible on the page to refine through later drafts, and often leaves out details (single letter placeholders for character names, or general ideas such as “they somehow escape”).

Regardless of what method you use, or if you use a method at all, thinking of the overall structure of your story early on leads to better, more refined work later on and is worth the time to reflect on.

Takeaway:

How you outline is very much a personal choice, but it does help craft a more intricate story and there’s more than one way to do it!

What’s your outlining style? Let us know in the comments!

(For Master Lists that help develop your novel from start to finish, sign up here!)

I always have a basic plot outline, but I like to leave some things to be decided while I write. — J.K. Rowling

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