Category Archives: World-building

The Unconscious Autobiography

It’s been said, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, that all characters in a story have a bit of the author in them. Everything you write is colored by your personal preconceptions, observations, experiences, and random thoughts about life and your place in it. In a very real way, who we are leaks into the text whether we want it to or not. I don’t know if I’m the only one who has had this happen, but I find it interesting, and sometimes unsettling, when I realize something about a situation or a character is actually something about myself that I had not realized until I saw it on the page. In a very real way, our characters are our reflections, though sometimes distorted ones. Their experiences and reactions to those experiences are deeply colored by our own.

Now, this doesn’t mean that one could use a piece of fiction as a case study of the author. Authors don’t directly translate themselves onto the page. Most of the time this is an unconscious phenomenon.

In fact, this happens so often and with so little thought that it’s almost impossible not to write what we know. Our subconscious does it for us. When we need a scent, we pull one from memory. When we need to show an emotional reaction, we look at how our own bodies might feel in the same situation. If the character experiences something that we never have, we might find an analogous experience to inform what is on the page. While in most cases writing fiction is writing stories about other people, we cannot help but write about ourselves at the same time.

On some level, writing what you know comes without thinking. But notice the “without thinking” part.

The difficulty comes when we let our own experiences limit what we can and do show in a story. It’s extremely easy to fall back on our own point of view. For example, I find that my characters can sometimes be reserved, even repressed, about their emotions. As a result, I often find it difficult to push the emotional dial up to full for an explosive moment of conflict. That comes from me. I’m a pretty laid back person who doesn’t feel all that comfortable when people around me are really emotional. While I can bring tension, sometimes just bringing tension isn’t enough for a big scene. I’ve seen and heard about other writers who will actually skip hugely important scenes in their books because they themselves have no reference point, or their own beliefs or view of the world make it difficult to face what their characters have to do.

And of course, there’s that ever present failure when an author writes a gross generalization or something just flat out wrong that is deeply insulting to an entire group of people because said author didn’t look outside their own point of view.

For instance, I once knew a real young man whose personality was so over the top that he seemed almost like a caricature. At the time, I thought he’d make a great character in a book, but part of what made him utterly ridiculous was intrinsically bound to an entire group of people who are mostly not ridiculous at all. That character isn’t showing up anywhere in my work as a result. Some might think, to avoid this, one should steer clear of any type of character that is not like them. Sometimes this might be the right call, but limiting oneself to just the familiar often leads to boring characters and lackluster plots. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

My point here is simply to be mindful of what is going into the mixing pot that is your story. Pay attention to those moments when a character trait or bit of setting or what-have-you relies a little too much on what you know. Look for those opportunities when something different can strengthen and deepen what you’re working on.

Who knows, your characters might rub off on you for a change.

For Me

Amanda cardFor me, writing comes naturally. Writing well takes work.

I decided this year was the year to take a step back and evaluate how well I write. Although reading is a great way to learn about writing, an online class is definitely a more effective way to strengthen your skills.

Time was a consideration for me when deciding to take on “one more thing.” I tend to lead a busy life. I work two jobs as a teacher: one at high school, the other is at college. I am currently enrolled in courses for an additional add-on to my certification. I am going back to school again for yet another degree in January (I already have four). Taking on a writing class was definitely something to really think about since I knew I needed to do it now rather than later.

Honestly, I didn’t take a lot of time. I wanted, no – more like craved – to learn more and become a better writer. Ok. Ready, set, go! I jumped.

I signed up for a few classes with various instructors. All were good classes. I have to say that David Farland’s classes and online lectures were the strongest ones I have taken to date. Listening to his sage advice and techniques had me taking copious notes and reviewing previous things I have written. It has also given me a stronger foundation for future works.

Dave is patient man. Any question I emailed him he has graciously been kind and helpful. No question is “stupid.” The feedback I received from the assignments had corrections and suggestions. Some lessons have more corrections than others, which is ok. I wanted to learn. If I knew it all, I wouldn’t have signed up.

One of the assignments had me build a world. An actual world. With land and water. With habitable areas. With people and animal potential.

I had to read the assignment again. I was terrified. *deep breath* Ok. I can do this.

I watched the videos a couple of times. I took notes. Then, I started plotting and planning.

I figured the best way was to start large and work my way in. I made a world, then focused in on the major areas. From there, I created cities that were important to the story.

At first, I was stressed. I wanted it to be great. With Dave’s advice, I did it over a few weeks, one step at a time. As my fictional world developed, so did my creative world. The more I added, the more it became real to me. I have even, with the help of my chemistry friend, developed the crystal that is a major prop in the story.

I submitted the assignment. And waited.

My results came back. Dave made comments on everything I had submitted. Although I still have all of the comments, the one that still sticks out for me was, “This is something doable.”

My face hurt from smiling. I did it. I was proud of myself.

Dave has truly inspired me. I have never created anything this complex. World building is new to me, and I now realize how much work goes into it. There is as much, if not more, work as actually writing the story. I find I keep going back and adding more, creating more detail for myself so as I create the story, that information will filter through. I want to transport the reader to a new world and experience a new adventure.

Yes, I am published. My paranormal mystery, Strength of Spirit, won an award in 2014. I have had short stories, journal articles, and poetry published. I have been published academically, too.

I am a seeker of words, a bibliophile by choice. However, I pray I never become so complacent with my work that I don’t desire to learn more.

About the Author: Amanda Faith

Amanda Faith

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way. Loving a good puzzle has always been a fascination, and writing gives her the outlet to put all the pieces together.

Being adventurous and loving to try new things, it wasn’t long before her characters found themselves in unusual situations. She loves to put people from two different worlds into new situations and to see how they interact, taking them on journeys they would never have normally experienced.

Teaching high school English by day, college English by night, writing, and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.

The Semi-True Story

I gave a copy of Fossil Lake: An Anthology of the Aberrant to my parents with a proviso attached: it’s not autobiographical.

fossilThe assumption would be easy enough to make. My contribution to Fossil Lake, the short story “Mishipishu: The Ghost Story of Penny Jaye Prufrock,” is set at a summer camp for kids. The name of the camp in the story, Camp Zaagaigan (the Algonquin word for “lake”) is fictional; so is Lake Mishipishu (I actually checked on the maps and found a Mishibishu Lake…) My parents, however, would be able to name the real camp and the real lake after they read the story: from the cabin line to that infamous H-dock, the layout of Camp Zaagaigan mirrors its real-world counterpart, and they drove me there often enough to recognize it.

From there it’s just one step further to wondering how much more of the story is real.

I’m often asked whether the characters in my story are “me,” or whether the events are “real,” and all I can ever say is that I write semi-true stories. Semi-true in that I’ve never been able to take a person, event, or revelation and transcribe it into fiction word-for-word. As a writer friend of mine says, real life doesn’t have to make sense, but fiction does. Even if I’m starting with something “inspired by a true story,” in order to make event or character coherent, I have to add things here, or take things away that might have happened in real life, but don’t add anything useful to the tale I’m telling. Sometimes changes to the story make it more dramatic, more compelling, or more satisfying; and so the events “inspired by a true story” move ever farther away from a faithful reflection of reality. After all, I’m writing fiction—I’m not required to report on reality. I’m required to tell an engaging and powerful tale.

And semi-true in that I do my best to write characters who feel real: who behave in realistic ways, who are recognizable and relatable, who are emotionally honest. When I write them, I put myself in their position and see the world through their eyes; and yes, to an extent, I feel what they feel, and try to express that emotion in the words I’m writing. Often this emotional connection is informed by my own real-world experiences. I do know what being bullied feels like. I do know what doing something I know is against the rules feels like. I don’t know what it feels like to drown, but I do know what it feels like to not be able to breathe, so I write about that…and imagine one step farther, based on research and my own ideas. These characters aren’t me, but they have pieces of my emotions inside them.

So no, I was never bullied at that summer camp you sent me to, Mom and Dad. No, I never snuck out of the cabin after hours. No, I was never a suicidal twelve-year-old, and no, I’ve never lost sight of the line between reality and imagination.

…or at least, I’ve always found it again in time.

About Mary: 

Mary Pletsch is a glider pilot, toy collector and graduate of the University of Huron College, the Royal Military College of Canada and Dalhousie University. She is the author of several previously published short stories in a variety of genres, including science fiction, steampunk, fantasy and horror. She currently lives in New Brunswick with Dylan Blacquiere and their four cats.

World Building in Dark Fiction

Guest Post by Pamela K. Kinney

Whether your tale is set in a real place or an imagined one, you need to establish your characters’ world so that the reader can suspend disbelief and fully engage with the story. Not only horror, this includes from science fiction and fantasy. There must be reasons why a character or a whole slew of them reacts as they do in their world. Their actions, their thoughts, the reason they fall in love or hate someone, why they kill, every bit of their reactions comes from how their universe revolves. World building determines the place your characters live in.

Pamela K. Kinney - Paranormal Petersburg - Web72dpiWorld building is the process of constructing an imaginary world. World building in horror and dark fantasy often involves the creation of a back-story, maybe history, geography, ecology, supernatural creatures, and people for the novel, novella, or even a short story. The short story will consist of a scene unlike the longer novella or novel. This can be lesson from a sentence to a paragraph’s worth of world building.

The more differences to the mundane world you write into your plot, the more the writer should focus on getting those details right. Set them so they almost fade into the background, and that way, the reader will focus on the characters and the story. There is no need to info dump those aspects of the world right away in the first chapter or two.

It is not just the big details the writer should worry about, but those small things that can escape attention. Small details sharpen the world. Think of a movie. You have the main actors. But you also have the extras, or background as they are called in the movie business. You’re thinking, “No, extras aren’t that important, not when your hero or heroine are the real focus of the story.” Take a look at a haunted house story, It’s not just the humans who are stuck in the building and trying to get out. The house itself and the ghosts are the extras or background. All this makes your story a more rounded one.

Be consistent in your world building rules. Keep them as you delve deeper into the story. Once the manuscript is done, editing will help in catching these kinds of mistakes. I have files on all my characters in my stories, adding their traits, what they do for a living, and much more. This keeps straight my characters and the world they exist in. After all, if what you’ve written goes against any of the rules you’ve created in your world, then there has to be a logical, rational reason, reasonable to you, but most of all, to your readers. Such as if iron is poisonous to the fey, but suddenly later in the story, the character can touch a fence of iron, there must be a reason why they can do this at the time (maybe they had found a spell that enables them to). Don’t just have them unable to do something because it isn’t convenient to your story. Being consistent is what makes the suspension of disbelief your readers are willing to have if you do it right.

Your world’s historical past should not overwhelm or dominate your current story. If it does, then you will bore your readers, most of all, you’re writing the wrong fiction. A paragraph of it is all you need.

When writing fantasy, building a world that is extraordinary and vivid is often the heart of the tale, even the dark world of a horror novel. The stranger that fantastical world is, the more important it becomes for the author to create a reality that readers can relate to and make them feel part of it. Throw horror into the equation and now the writer must add a visceral component into the mix. When it comes to horror, Hell might be the world the writer is building. Don’t just stick to the physical horrors. Develop the emotional and psychological plight of it. For horror is about the emotion; the fear you want the reader to feel as they read. This would flesh out the horror world; make it 3D and not a flat world.

Magic is not only in high fantasy, but it can used be in dark fantasy or horror. Look at George RR Martin’s Games of Thrones—magic is as much a part of the frightening elements and monsters as the noble families plotting to kill each other are. There’s a reason tropes like magic is evil and black magic exist. Take deals with the Devil, or human sacrifice. Look at the world that JK Rowling built. How dark this young adult fantasy grows as it progresses, to more horror than light fantasy.

Now, get out there and start planning the world of your scary story. One that will raise the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck.

 


 

About the Author:

Author of Haunted Richmond, Haunted Richmond II, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales, and Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, & Other Haunted Locations, Pamela K. Kinney has written fiction that enables her readers to journey to worlds of fantasy, go beyond the stars, and dive into the vortex of terror. One of her stories proved heart-stopping enough to be runner up for 2013 WSFA Small Press Award. As Sapphire Phelan, she also writes bestselling, award winning paranormal romance with dark heroes and heroines with bite!
Find out more about her at her websites: http://www.pamelakkinney.com/ and http://www.sapphirephelan.com/.

About the Book:

Travel to Petersburg, Virginia, and the surrounding areas of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Prince George, Dinwiddie, and nearby Ettrick-Matoaca, Enon, and Chester to discover what spirits, monsters, UFOs, and legends await the unwary. Why are the Union and Confederate spirits still fighting the Civil War in the battlefields? Who is the lady in blue who haunts Weston Plantation House? Learn what the phantoms at Peter Jones Trading Post will do to keep from being photographed. Drink tea with runaway slaves still hiding on the top floor above the Blue Willow Tea Room. Are Edgar Allan Poe and his bride still on their honeymoon at Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House? Why does the Goatman stalk young lovers? Meet the ghosts of Violet Bank Museum that greet guests at the house. Hauntingly active as they share space with the living, the dead refuse to give up their undead residency.