Making immortal characters feel real to your readers

My little Sauron sitting next to his eye... Yes I do own these!Many of the most fascinating characters in fantasy are immortal–the vampires Lestat and Armand immediately pop into my mind–but so are many of the most shallow characters, especially villains(I’m looking at you Sauron). I myself struggled for years to find the true voice of Riana, the cursed demigod who is the main character of Moonshadow’s Guardian, the fantasy novel I’m currently preparing to self publish.

There are countless examples of immortal characters who have all the feelings of a cardboard cutout or who mindlessly serve a single purpose even when it’s doomed but it is possible to write an immortal character your readers will like, even love. You just have to be prepared to put in some extra work. This article will explain how to develop immortal characters who have lived several hundred(or thousand) years.

The Challenges of Writing Immortal Characters

Writing a truly believable character is difficult even when your character isn’t immortal but immortality brings its own set of challenges:

1. A longer history means more world development

If your character has been alive for one hundred years you need to know what life was like in their world one hundred years ago–and something about how they lived during all the years in between. If your character has lived a thousand years or even ten thousand years the same thing holds true.

This means you need to do either extensive historical research(if your novel is based on a historical period and especially if it’s in a real place) or extensive worldbuilding(if you’re creating your own world). You probably won’t add a huge portion of it to the backstory even if the immortal character is your main character but you need to know it. What your character knows and remembers will have a huge impact on their personality. The more time you spend getting to know them, the more you will understand them and how they would think/speak.

2. It’s way more tempting to make them Mary Sues/Gary Stus

Most immortal characters also have some kind of special powers, usually related to the reason why they’re immortal. It’s always tempting to overdo these powers, to have the characters quickly win every battle, but that ruins the tension of the book.

Another thing you might be tempted to do is create an immortal character who has lived for eons and spent literally their entire life devoted to one thing. Unless your character is forced to do this one thing or was created specifically for that purpose(and designed to enjoy it) they will eventually want to do something new. Your immortal characters should have spent at least some time doing other things. Or had doubts about the one purpose they’ve always served.

It is true that we form most of our personality and long term beliefs in our first 10-20 years of life but almost every person goes through periods of doubt and upheaval. If your character has been alive for two or more human lifetimes they’re likely to have experienced at least twice as many periods of upheaval. Immortal characters who are supposed to be similar to humans in almost every other way but who never even doubted their purpose are kind of hard to believe.

3. It’s also really tempting to just fill their past with torture

Our goal as authors is to make our readers feel with the characters and frankly the easiest way to do this is to give them some past suffering to think about. And writing an extensive backstory is hard, which makes it really tempting to kill off all the people your character cares about quickly and have them spend the rest of their lives as sad hermits until your story starts.

This does work once in a while but as a general rule of thumb all of your characters should have periods of happiness they can remember–and an immortal character should probably remember at least a few more happy moments than your average mortal.

A good character feels the full spectrum of emotions(unless the story is about them not feeling the full range of emotions) and always has.

How to thoroughly develop your immortal characters

Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is lucky enough to get a well rounded character arc.
Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who is lucky enough to get a well rounded character arc.

Properly developing an immortal character is very similar to developing a regular character but it will take you longer. I like to start by building an overall timeline noting only the ten or fifteen most important events in the character’s lifetime. Often the events will slide into place as soon as I’ve written the first one down but sometimes I have to ask the characters questions, usually things like “what was your worst memory”.

Once I’ve figured out these fifteen defining events and where they sit on the character’s timeline I can dive deeper. I write scenes about most of these events, always working in the first person POV(point of view) of the character I’m trying to develop. Sometimes I’ll write two scenes about a specific event, one from the POV of another character, to see how it affected different people or how other people see the immortal character.

As you research the history of the setting you’ve chosen or develop the history of your own created world you should also tie these into your character’s life. By this I don’t mean have them directly involved–your immortal character shouldn’t be involved in every single historical event during their lifetime–but they should have an opinion on at least the biggest events both local and worldwide. Even antisocial people who never go out except to shop hear the occasional rumour and develop an opinion on it.

Your character’s age will probably also impact the way they use language. Immortal characters will obviously have to keep up with changes in language to be able to communicate with people around them on a daily basis but they might adjust slowly, always speaking like an old fashioned person. Or they might adopt new slang immediately to avoid attention, especially if they’re the type of immortal who doesn’t age. Developing some slang for them to use–whether it’s old fashioned or extremely new to your world–will give your character more depth. Of course, you can overdo this pretty easily, so be conservative about where you sprinkle that slang.

Final Tips

16 Quick CharacterDevelopmentExercisesThe best thing you can do to properly develop an immortal character is take your time. You should develop more details about your character and your world before, during and after every draft of every story they’re in. Be willing to spend countless hours wandering through your world with your characters–both the immortal ones and the regular mortals.

If you’re still not sure where to start(or you’ve worked through the aspects of character discussed here) you should do the 16 quick character exercises I posted last week.

Investing in your writing career: when, why and how much?

money-1090816_640Let’s start with a fact we all know: building a writing career is hard work. It’s hard to become a freelance writer and it’s much, much harder to become a successful fiction writer. Even the best and brightest among us put years of hard work into their craft before they see any measurable success. The few who do manage to become popular with their first published novels often wrote several others first; those who get the first book they wrote published have often spent years writing short stories.

Luckily we live in the internet age, which means there are thousands of resources to help you speed up your own career. You can learn about how to get excellent freelance jobs from Linda Formichelli of The Renegade Writer or Sophie Lizard of Be a Freelance Blogger. You can read about character development and fiction writing on Live Write Thrive or the DIY MFA blog. You can even take a free course in fiction writing at Open University or the Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Yet sooner or later it becomes crucial to invest real money into your career. You probably know you need to invest in a website, but have you thought about investing in yourself?

Why investing in yourself is key to your writing career

If you’ve already written a book you probably know how irritating it is when people assume anyone can write a book. If you’ve edited a book you know how frustrating it is to see people believe you can just write a first draft, publish it and become successful. And if you’ve been at this for a while you’ve probably realized there is always more to learn. You’re prepared to commit hundreds, even thousands of hours to building a writing career, so why not invest some dollars too?

Yes, there is a lot of great free content online, but a lot of the best content is locked away in some sort of paid course or ebook. Paid courses also often come with actual mentorship and feedback from the instructor as well as your other classmates. Not to mention encouragement in real time(ish) when you’re struggling with an issue. This feedback from real professionals can leapfrog your writing by years if you use it well.

Committing real dollars into your writing education also helps you stay committed to learning and to your career overall, even when you’re feeling tired and discouraged by all the things you have to do to become successful. Sometimes a financial commitment to your career propels you to take your career more seriously than before.

When is the best time to invest in your writing career?

Any time is a good time. Making a small financial commitment to your writing education every month or year can keep you constantly moving forward. Every time you study a new aspect of writing or even a new writer’s process you learn something about the craft. Every investment will speed up your progress towards success.

So what should you actually invest in?

Like so many things in writing it all depends on what kind of person you are and what goals you have. If you happen to be independently wealthy and have full control of your time you might want to invest in an MFA. If you work a day job you might want to take evening classes at the local community college or purchase an online video course you have 24/7 access to.

Generally, though, there are three main things worth investing in: actual courses(online or offline), books about writing craft, and one on one mentorship. I believe every writer should invest in at least a handful of excellent books about the writing craft that they can refer back to. Having both books about overall writing and books that focus on specific topics relevant to the genres you write in is a good idea.

Should you take a writing course? I think you should try to take a few, either advancing a specific style of writing or exploring a new style of writing. I also think every fiction writer should take a script writing course because even a basic script writing course can change how you think about storytelling forever, especially if you’re a novelist. What type of course you take is entirely up to you and your goals. How much feedback do you want? How much structure? Do you want to take an existing project in or work primarily on exercises?  How much can you afford to invest in an extensive course?

What about one on one mentorship? One on one mentorship is great, but depending on the type of mentorship and who you want to work with it can be quite expensive. A mentor who works with you one on one will often provide the highest level of motivation–at least partially because it is so expensive–and the most detailed feedback. Hiring a freelance editor is similar: you’ll pay a fortune, but you’ll learn a lot and jump several levels in writing skill if you apply the lessons from the experience to the rest of your work.

In short, only you know what you really need and can afford. We can all benefit from investing in our career but every writer’s path is different. A

Want something a little bit more specific? Here are some resources & classes I’ve loved:

For Fiction Writers

Worldbuilding: From Small Towns to Entire Universes by Kevin J. Anderson – I loved this book so much I wrote a review!

Writing Fight Scenes by Marie Brennan – I’ve also written a review for this excellent guide.

WritingAcademy.com – I’ve taken the YA fiction and screenwriting courses here and quite enjoyed the exercises and examples given. They do put the courses on sale every once in a while so you might want to watch out for those.

For Freelance Writers

Escape the Content Mills – I actually got to beta test this course for an extremely low price and I absolutely loved it. The hand outs were great and the community on the forum for this course was also amazing. I love working with Linda Formichelli(you might notice this) and would recommend any of her courses.

Freelance Writer’s Den – Run by Carol Tice and Linda Formichelli, this is a paid forum where you can network with other freelance writers, ask questions of experienced pros, get feedback on query letters and letters of introduction and even find jobs.

These are the best resources/classes I’ve invested in so far. Of course, everyone I listed above sells ebooks or online courses and there are also hundreds of other reputable writers and schools who can teach you new writing skills and offer excellent feedback.

What have you invested in/are you thinking about investing in? Let me know in the comments below!

Where to find great writing courses

Last week I talked about why all fiction writers should take a screenwriting course, and I’ve talked in a more general sense about the power of online courses before.

startup-593324_640So how do you find a good writing course online? There are many different places where you can find writing courses, not to mention courses for every genre and every skill level. And there are courses to fit every budget.

Today I’m going to talk about the three places where I’ve taken online writing courses:

1. The Writing Academy — Run by successful authors Steve Alcorn and Dani Alcorn, there are a variety of workshops and even college courses. The courses are well formatted and affordable. I’ve actually taken a couple courses here–their Young Adult Writing Workshop and more recently the Screenwriting Workshop–and enjoyed them thoroughly. A lot of the topics in each course have been things I’m familiar with, like pitches and three-act story structure, but they’re tackled in an interesting way and the exercises are incredibly useful.

2. Udemy — This website hosts a wide range of classes, including many classes by and for writers. I’ve taken a couple courses here and I like the format. There are also over 200 fiction writing courses on this site, so you’ll probably find something you like there.

3. Coursera — Coursera also offers a wide range of courses, but the courses here are actual university or college courses provided by instructors. Of course, some of these are also writers–it’s worth looking into the instructor before you sign up for a course. I’m currently taking a course on historical fiction and while the instructor leaves something to be desired, the subject matter is fascinating. Oh, and Coursera has another thing going for it–for a small fee you can get a certification to post to your LinkedIn profile.

Did I mention that Coursera is also free? Yeah, it’s pretty sweet.

Whatever you do, don’t just take a writing course to take a writing course, especially if you’re throwing money down. Take a writing course you’re really excited to take. You should enjoy the learning process.

Have you ever taken an online writing course? If so, let me know about it in the comments below!

 

19 Resources to help you edit that novel

EditingI originally started blogging because I wanted to share my journey towards writing success, but now I also blog because I’m dedicated to helping others build their own writing careers. I want to help you not only explore different writing methods, but to master as many aspects of the craft as you can.

One thing crucial to your success as a writer is the ability to edit. This is true for writers of all kinds, and especially true for novelists.

Now that it’s been a couple weeks since you finished your novel, it’s time to start thinking about editing. Starting before the holidays are over is probably a bad idea, but brushing up on your editing skills is always a good idea—and if you’ve been at this a while, you probably have a couple other projects that could use a serious edit(or three).

So I’ve compiled a list of editing resources to help you turn your first draft into a novel worth publishing, mostly focused on content instead of grammar. With any luck, these resources will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

Editing and the Writing Craft: Tips From an Editor – This interview over on the Creative Penn blog gives you advice directly from Joanna Penn’s fiction editor.

How to Karate Your Novel and Edit that Motherfucker Hard: A No-Fooling Fix That Shit Editing Plan to Finish the Goddamn Job – I’m not sure he could have made the title any longer, but Chuck Wendig is a fantastic writer and a really funny blogger with practical advice written in a funny way. I suggest subscribing to his blog while you’re there. It’s worth it, trust me.

The 5 Biggest Fiction Writing Mistakes (& How to Fix Them) – A helpful article from Writer’s Digest.

Tips on Self-Editing Fiction Books – Not the most comprehensive resource, but certainly a useful article.

How to Revise a Novel – Rather successful author Holly Lisle offers up her revision method and offers some practical advice for any novel writer.

Creating Emotion in the Reader – Not specifically focused on editing, but creating emotions in your readers is the end goal, right? Learning how to do so will certainly make your next draft stronger.

Top 10 Book Self-Editing Tips – Yet another useful article with good advice for editing your novel.

Writing a Novel? 6 Visual Storytelling Techniques to Borrow from Film and TV – Rewriting might be different from writing, especially if your first draft wasn’t particularly awful, but some scenes will certainly need to be rewritten entirely and might just be better if you use these techniques.

How to Edit Your Book Until It’s Finished – This blogger will tell you that writing is revision, and give you some concrete advice on how to do that revision.

How to Edit A Novel: Bringing Your Manuscript to Perfection – I would argue that no book can ever be perfect, but this is still a valuable article with actual examples.

7 Deadly Myths About Editing And 3 Inspired Truths – A little bit less instructional than most of the other articles, but very true.

Marcela Landres on Editing Fiction – An interview with former Simon & Schuster editor discussing how novelists can get their work ready for submission.

Tips for Editing Your Nanowrimo Novel – From Lifehacker, this article is focused on those of you who are editing a first draft from Nanowrimo, and also has a section on apps that can help you get your editing done. Yes, there really is an app for everything these days.

Editing Your Novel As You Read It – And one final article I hope you’ll find helpful.

How To Find a Beta Reader – This is a pretty thorough article that should help you find a beta reader in no time. Beta readers are critical to your success, so make sure you don’t stop until you find a good one!

What I’ve Got To Say About Editing

Here are some of the articles I’ve written over the years that can help you edit your novel:

Create Your Editing Watch List – An Editing Watch List can help you stay on track so you don’t find yourself editing for the same things three times.

On Overwriting and More On Overwriting – Two articles I wrote about something I see all the time, even in books published by large presses, but mostly from indie authors.

Preparing To Edit A Novel – There are a few things you should do before you start editing a novel, and I’ve summed them all up nicely here.

Editing definitely isn’t my favourite part of the writing process, but it’s an essential one. Often times a novel needs to go through a dozen edits before it’s fit to see the light of day, and that’s fine. What isn’t fine is believing your novel is good to go the moment you’ve typed “The End”.

Do your career and editors everywhere a favour by choosing to edit your novel at least three times before you send it anywhere except to a couple trusted beta readers.

By the way, last week I released a short ebook of 110 Novel Planning Resources, available to my subscribers only. If you’re not already signed up, sign up for the newsletter here to claim your  free resource guide today! I only send out emails once a month, so you won’t have to worry about me cluttering your inbox.

Using setting to develop character

http://pixabay.com/en/wallpaper-wood-bridge-background-19513/Any writer who’s been at this a while will tell you that in the best novels, setting, plot and character are intertwined. One cannot exist completely separate from the other, and they all influence each other to make a whole, interesting story.

This means that building upon one aspect of your novel often informs work you’re doing on other aspects. The history of your world, particularly the development of prejudice, impacts how your characters behave and are perceived. If one or more of your characters are in marginalized groups in the society you’ve created, they’re going to interact differently with other characters and be treated differently too.

Of course, how you can play with discrimination in fantasy settings and how that impacts characters’ lives is an article in its own right, maybe even a book.

What I’d really like to talk about today is something a little different: what you can learn about your characters by how they interpret setting. The details your character notices first–and how that changes based on their mood–can tell you a lot about your character: what they think about, how certain objects remind them of their past, how they feel about a certain place.

Today’s exercise is to write a scene where one of the major characters in your novel walks into a public space, twice.

The first time you write this scene, your character has just gotten some good news and is feeling great. What details do they notice? How are they walking? Do they often use large words to describe ordinary objects when a small word could work just as well? All these things say something about your character.

The second time you write this scene, your character’s had a really long day and is feeling down about their life and the direction it’s going in. Are the details they notice the same as the first time they walked into this room? Are they paying more attention to what’s going on in the room, or to how they feel? Does their mood change the language they use to describe things and people in the room?

When you’ve written both versions of the scene, compare the two and take notes on anything that leaps out of you: particularly poignant descriptions, a tendency to ignore their surroundings because they’re focused on themselves, a specific relationship with the place you chose to write about. Any small thing you notice about the character–or the setting, if you think it’s one you’ll use again–is worth noting.

What did you learn about your character today? Do you think it will help you write a better novel?

Ultimate Character Resource List

characterIf you’ve followed more than a couple blogs about writing fiction for a while, you’ve probably noticed that most writers will claim one of two things is the most important aspect of any novel: character or plot. And before you ask, I suspect the only author you’re likely to know of who thought worldbuilding truly was the most crucial aspect of story was Tolkien. (Feel free to mention others if you know about them. I don’t.)

You might be wondering what I have to say on the matter, and just to satisfy your curiosity I’ll give you the short answer: I think it depends on the writer and the story. Which is really my short answer for everything to do with writing a novel, because it’s hard to say anything more definite in a sentence.

Besides, I’m not here to argue semantics. We can do that in a couple months, when we’ve finished our crazy noveling adventures.

No, today I’m here to provide you with a comprehensive list of free resources that will help you create real, believable characters that people will grow to love—or hate. So bookmark this page and prepare to build the best characters you’ve ever built, one exercise at a time.

(For the record, this would have gone up last weekend except I accidentally smashed my laptop screen before I scheduled it and it took me a while to get the file back. Sorry guys!)

Resources on Character Development

1. Character Creation: 4 Simple Exercises – This is a short but incredibly useful article on Writer’s Digest if you’re just getting started with your character creation. The four writing exercises outlined in this article won’t take you too long, but they will greatly improve your understanding of your characters.

2. Take your Characters out to Lunch: 5 Development Exercises – The great thing about this article is that it has not just the five exercises it mentions, but links to a few different prompt sites where you can find writing exercises that will help you develop your characters further and get into the writing mood before you actually start your first draft.

3. 12 Character Writing Tips for Fiction Writers – This is an article with advice on many of the different aspects you need to create a solid character. It doesn’t go into much detail about any of them, but it’s a good place to start.

4. Characterisation in the Novel – Published by The Writer’s Workshop, this is a really comprehensive article about character development with a pretty intense exercise designed to help you nail down many of the fundamentals mentioned in the article above this one.

5. Developing Distinctive Character Voices – An article with three different exercises designed to help you develop distinctive voices for each of your characters.

6. The 100 Most Important Things You Need to Know About Your Character – This is a pretty massive list of questions designed to help you get to know your character. I’ve never worked my way through all of them for a single character, but combining question exercises with narrative exercises is often the best approach to character development, and one I’m quite fond of.

7. 50 Questions to Free Your Mind – The post kind of conveys them as questions you can ask yourself during a meditation or something, but these are some really interesting questions you can ask your characters if you want to make them really believable.

8. Top 10 Questions for Creating Believable Characters – If you don’t have a lot of time to spend planning your characters between now and when you’d like to start your first draft or you’d rather focus mostly on narrative exercises, these are the ten questions you really should ask your characters before you start your first draft.

9. Character Questionnaire – As you can probably tell, there are thousands of these questionnaires, each of them with their own good points and bad points. Often they’re a good jumping off point for writing exercises—you can use each one as a prompt for some flash fiction—but even answering all of these questions in point form is a great way to start building characters people will believe and understand.

10. The Art of Character Development – This is a pretty comprehensive cluster of articles designed to help writers and role players create excellent characters. It’s also got some more general information on role playing if you have any interest in that.

11. The First Rule of Creating Fictional Characters – A breakdown of eight different ways you can ensure that your readers will actually care about your characters. There’s some great advice here.

12. Character Interview Sample Questions – Just in case you haven’t asked your characters enough questions at this point—or you want to try a different list for each character so you can figure out which one you like best.

13. Create a Character Exercises – This article takes some time to remind you that reading is just as important to your success as writing is before delving into some exercises you can use to develop your own great characters.

14. Creating Memorable Characters – This is an excellent article on Writing-World.com which discusses how to make your characters more memorable. I read this article a few years ago and took its words to heart.

15. What Makes a Character Memorable? — Another article discussing how you can create memorable characters. After all, if there’s one thing that will be remembered about your book throughout the ages, it will probably be the characters.

16. Virginia Woolf’s Advice on Creating Memorable Characters – Whether or not you like Virginia Woolf—and people seem to be pretty divided on that matter, from what I can tell—she does have some great advice about how to create memorable characters.

17. Five Key Ways to Make Characters Memorable – Yet another great article on how you can make your characters more memorable.

18. The 3 Types of Character Arc : Change, Growth, and Fall – The best novels all feature dynamic characters whos lives are constantly changing, even if only in small, minute ways the reader barely notices. This article explains the three main types of character arc to help you create truly dynamic, vivid characters.

19. Character Arc 101 – This article goes over a lot of the basics needed to understand how character arcs work.

20. Creating a Stunning Character Arc, Part 1: Can You Structure Characters? — This is a long, pretty in depth article with links to an entire series of pretty long, in depth articles. Reading through all of these—and thoroughly digesting the information you find there—will help you go into your first draft with a clear idea of where your characters are going.

21. The Elements of a Novel: Character – You can find lots of useful information on different aspects of novel writing at this website, and this particular link is a pretty thorough article about character development.

22. Character Profile Template – This is a ready to download character profile template you can use to keep the most important information about each of your characters in one place.

23. Character Chart – This is another, more detailed approach to a character profile where you can keep pretty much any information you’ll ever need to know about your characters. You can download a copy to edit yourself.

24. Huge Character Profile of Completeness – If you want to try creating a truly comprehensive character profile as your main approach to character development—or just so all the information you’ve gathered while using the rest of these resources is in one place—this is the resource you need.

25. The Nanowrimo Adoption Society – Every year you’ll find a handy “Adopt a character” thread on this forum. Often you’ll even find different threads devoted to adopting characters from different genres. Even if you don’t take a specific character from this forum, the things you read are sure to inspire a character anyway.

26. Fantasy Character Generator – Just in case you’re starting completely from scratch, this generator will randomly produce character descriptions and hopefully inspire some great creations of your own.

27. The Secrets of Great Characters According to 6 Science Fiction Authors – An article with some thoughts from successful fiction authors so you can get an idea what the pros have to say on the subject.

28. How to Use Psychology in Fiction to Engage Readers – This is a great article about how psychology can be used to create amazing characters that will keep your readers coming back for more.

29. Psychology for Writers – This is a whole archive of articles about pyschology that are of particular interest to fiction writers. Need I say it’s exciting to explore? I haven’t gotten through them all yet, but I’m fascinated and eager to continue reading until I do.

30. Creating a Character Template – A guide to creating your own character template to use every time you start working with a new character.

31. Character Sketch — Kindly left in the comments for me, this is a great article by Matt Herron about how to create characters using Scrivener.

32. Developing Themes in Your Stories: Character Arcs — This is a post on one of my favourite blogs, DIY MFA, with a series of exercises to help you develop character arcs.

You can find thousands of articles and exercises designed to help you build your characters all over the web, but these are the ones I think you’ll find most useful. This list represents dozens of different approaches to creating believable, dynamic fictional characters, and I intend to add to it every year.

Is there a resource you’d really like to see added to this list? Let me know in the comments below or via email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .

Developing your world by examining adulthood

fireworks-180553_640Every culture throughout history has had some sort of tradition that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. These traditions vary widely, ranging from wild parties to vision quests to marriage–which often involved a massive party anyway.

Now that pretty much everybody lives to adulthood and a great many people aren’t religious, the vast majority of us don’t celebrate adulthood with some ancient cultural tradition, but we do celebrate. Oh, and adulthood starts much later now than it did a couple hundred years ago, when fourteen year old girls were commonly married and fourteen year old boys were working.

Today’s challenge is to write a story about one of your main characters making the transition from childhood to adulthood. 

Pay particular attention to these things:

What age does adulthood begin at in this culture? Is it connected to a specific marker of puberty?

Does becoming an adult mean starting work right away?

Is there an actual celebration? If so, is it religious?

If there isn’t any major celebration or trial characters go through when they reach adulthood, why not?

How soon after adulthood begins is the character expected to marry? (I.E. Are people at the celebration asking them when they’re going to marry? Or is a marriage already arranged?)

Even if your characters aren’t going to be coming of age during the story, this exercise can tell you a lot about the culture you’re working in.There are all kinds of things you can infer from this information. A culture with a high infant mortality rate is more likely to have a massive celebration when children become adults. A culture where the main coming of age ritual is marriage will likely have extremely sexist laws.

You can do this exercise if you’re writing in our world, too. After all, we do celebrate adulthood, and if your character is of a different religious background than you, this exercise might be very informative–as long as you research to make sure you get the feel of the event right.

How do characters in your world celebrate coming of age? Did you enjoy this writing exercise?

The Ultimate List of 42 Worldbuilding Resources

setting2Do you need help figuring out how to plan your novel? Are you looking for writing exercises that will help you develop your setting?

Well, it just so happens that you’re in the right place. This year as part of my Nanowrimo blogstravaganza I’ve decided to create three lists: the ultimate list of worldbuilding resources, the ultimate list of character building resources, and the ultimate list of plot development exercises.

My goal is to present you with all the options and the knowledge necessary to find your own way to success this Nanowrimo, and in every novelling endeavour you decide to take on after that.

Are you ready to start planning your Nanowrimo novel?

Is that a “yes” I hear?

Well then, let’s get to it:

Worldbuilding Resources

These resources will help you create a realistic, fascinating world that you can play in for years to come. Personally, worldbuilding is my favourite part of writing, which means two things: I have lots of resources on this list, and I decided to put worldbuilding first.

1. Limyaael’s Rants – One of the first blogs I ever liked and definitely one of the most entertaining and thorough resources you’ll find for writers. She’s stopped writing them now, but only because she’s already written on pretty much every topic that could be of value to a fantasy writer—and many that could be valuable to other writers as well.

2. 30 Days of Worldbuilding – This is one of the first worldbuilding resources I came across during Nanowrimo. I’ve never gone through the whole thing, but there are certain exercises listed here that I’ve done every time I created a world. This originally was created as a writing course and now exists as both a website and an ebook, so you can download a copy and take it with you for writing on the go.

3. Educated Worldbuilding – This website is sort of like a worldbuilding FAQ. It’s got basic information on several different topics related to worldbuilding and seems to be growing all the time. Some sections have more info than others, and they’re currently looking for volunteers to help flesh out certain sections. This site gives you a lot to think about when creating your own world.

4. Fantasy World Generator – Of all the resources on this list, this is the one I found most recently. It generates maps, and can generate entire worlds upon request. I love drawing my own maps—though they don’t usually look very good—but this program is awesome.

5. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questionnaire – This questionnaire isn’t quite as in depth as the 30 Days of Worldbuilding course, but it has a lot of the same questions. It’s pretty thorough and a great place to start.

6. Magical World Builder – This was actually created by the same person who did the 30 Days of Worldbuilding course, and is also available as an ebook. It’s a thorough guide specifically designed to help fantasy authors build their worlds, whereas the 30 Days of Worldbuilding isn’t specific to either fantasy or science fiction.

7. Creating Religions – A great list of articles that discuss the different aspects of creating a religion. Creating religions is one of my favourite parts of creating a new fantasy world, and this list has quite a bit of information to help you get started.

8. Quick and Dirty Worldbuilding – Don’t worry, I picked this resource for more than the amusing title, though I’ll admit I chuckled the first time I saw it. If you really want to take the bare minimum approach to worldbuilding because you have limited time before Nanowrimo starts—trust me, I’ve been there, it’s all good—this is the website for you.

9. Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions – A great list of questions to help you build a realistic fantasy world. I haven’t looked through this in too much detail, but it’s on the SFWA website, which is a high recommendation, and seems useful from what I did read.

10. Water Geography – Pretty much everything you need to know about the geography of water when you’re mapping your world. You might not think this is particularly important, but it is something you really should pay attention to. Making the little details of your world realistic helps keep your readers entrenched in the larger story.

11. Different Types of Magic – Creating a magic system for your fantasy world? Magic doesn’t have to be based on the elements. This site has a good list of different magical systems and enough information about each to help you choose one and start creating it.

12. Defining the Source, Effects, and Cost of Magic – This is a fairly in depth article discussing different aspects of a good magical system and how you can create them. Combined with the resource above and some of your own creativity, this article will help you create a believable magic system. For some of you who have been writing fantasy novels for a long time, this might not be new information, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded, right?

13. Myths, Creatures, and Folklore – This seems to be the ultimate resource guide for anything you might want to know related to creating your own mythology. I haven’t gone through all the resources yet, but I’ve gone through quite a few and found them useful. Hopefully you will too.

14. Setting the Fantastic in the Everyday World – You don’t get out of worldbuilding just because you want to set your fantasy novel in the real world. This article discusses some of the concerns you should address before starting a contemporary fantasy novel.

15. Creating a Language – This is a pretty detailed article about creating a language. I’ve never actually created a full language before, but I’ve read a fair bit about the subject and this is one of the better resources I’ve come across.

16. The Language Construction Kit – This is the most highly recommended resource on creating your own languages that I know of. I’ve read through most of it, though as mentioned above I haven’t actually created my own language. I find it hard enough to think up names for my characters and countries, let alone an entire language. At this point you probably won’t have time to create an entire language before Nanowrimo starts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start working on it now.

17. Creating Fictional Holidays – I love creating holidays and festivals in my fantasy worlds. This article has some great information and food for thought that will help you create some holidays of your own. And remember, they can celebrate holidays in science fiction first.

18. Weather and Worldbuilding 101 – This article has just enough information about weather and worldbuilding to make sure you don’t screw it up—and to inspire you to use weather creatively during your novel.

19. Midaevil Technology – This is a handy article that focuses primarily on weapons and will help you keep your work both original and accurate. Sure, swords might be cooler, but even if you don’t use these weapons it’s good to know they existed.

20. Music For Your Fantasy World – Music has been incredibly important throughout history and can add depth to your world. This article gives you a basic framework that you can use to create music for your fantasy world, even a musical history.

21. Mythic Scribes Worldbuilding Articles – The Mythic Scribes blog is a great resource for writers. This is the archive of all their articles about worldbuilding, and it has information on a variety of related topics.

22. Internet Sacred Text Archive – For those of you who have as much fun as I do creating religions, this website is a wealth of incredibly useful info. It’s the home of hundreds of sacred texts from different cultures, and should help you create sacred texts of your own—or provide some inspiration for a story based in our own world.

23. The International Phonetic Alphabet – Audio Illustrations – This allows you to see all the different human vocal sounds, so you can mix and match to create a language that sounds just right.

24. Cartography, Maps, Star Charts, and Writing – An article about how maps should influence fantasy stories, along with some examples of good fantasy maps and several useful links. This one was actually written up by a Nanowrimo participant.

25. Decorative-Maps.com – This website has a pretty thorough collection of articles on the subject of map making, and is a handy resource for anyone thinking about creating a map.

26. Fundamentals of Physical Geography – This is a free online textbook that explains how the planet works, written in such a way that anyone can read it, not just science geeks. I haven’t read through it all, but I’ve really enjoyed what I’ve learned so far.

27. SolStation – Are you thinking about writing some science fantasy? This website has local starmaps and lots of information about different stars in the area to help inspire you.

28. Orion’s Arm – You’ll find that a lot of these links are more directed at science fiction writers, but quite a few are useful for both fantasy and science fiction authors. I’ve only recently started exploring this and to be honest it has me considering digging up an old storyline I abandoned several years ago… But then again, new stories come all the time so who knows what will happen?

29. Project Rho – Here you’ll find starmaps and more useful information for building a science fiction world.

30. A Primer On Politics – Written by a Nanowrimo participant, this is one of the most useful articles you’ll find about politics for writers. It’s also got several pointed questions you should ask yourself before starting your first draft.

31. Worldbuilding: Creating and Naming Fantasy Kingdoms – This article is particularly great if, like me, you have no problem creating kingdoms but you always find yourself stumped on what to call them.

32. Encyclopedia Mythica – If you’re looking at creating a religion or writing about characters who follow an ancient religion you’ll find this resource incredibly helpful. It’s a collection of myths from all over the world, during every time period.

33. The Ancient History Encyclopedia – Want to base your fantasy world on an ancient civilization? Or maybe you want to base your fantasy novel in an ancient civilization. Either way, this site can help you make sure you get it right and give you plenty of ideas if you’re not sure how to structure your society.

34. Historically Accurate Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That – This is a great article about what discrimination really looked like in history with some thoughts on how to treat it in your fiction.

35. Debate with the Squirrels: Sexism in Fantasy – This is an article which takes the topic of how writers can address sexism in fantasy and turns it into an entertaining debate between the author and… Themselves.

36. Writing Racism Into our Fantasies: Orcs from Tolkien to Paizo – An interesting look at race in fantasy novels, including Lord of The Rings.

37. Feudalism – This article explains how feudalism works and a bit about the history of feudalism in European countries.

38. Feudal Japan – A basic explanation of how feudalism worked in Japan, with enough to get you started on the task of creating your own feudal society if you so choose.

39. English Monarchs – This website has a pretty detailed history of the various English monarchs throughout the ages. With any luck, this will help inspire you to create an equally screwed up monarchy in your own world.

40. Everyday Life in the Middle Ages – Created by the BBC, this article explains the basics of what life looked like in the middle ages. If your main characters are rich nobles, this article will give you enough information to make sure everyone around them is portrayed realistically.

41. Peasant Life in the Middle Ages – Just in case some of your major characters are peasants, this article goes into more detail.

42. The Story and Structure of the Iroquois Confederacy – If you really want to break away from the mold of traditional fantasy, one of the best ways to do it is by basing your government off one most authors ignore. The Iroqouis confederacy comes complete with a fascinating story and an intriguing structure. I think most modern governments could learn a lot from these guys.

Take this list, copy+paste it into your word processor and keep it on hand so you can work through these articles and exercises on your own time. And remember these two things:

Not every exercise will work for you, but that’s okay. You won’t have time to get through them all before Nanowrimo starts anyway.

Oh, and there IS such a thing as too much worldbuilding. It happens when you get so caught up in the details of creating a realistic world that you never write a novel. So make sure you stop when November first comes around and start actually working on your novel.

Did you find this list useful? Do you know a resource I should have included but didn’t? Let me know in the comments section below!

Commit to learning: take an online writing course

Once of the 10 Commandments of a Serious Writer is “I shall always be learning”. Part of this is practicing your writing consistently. Part of it is reading books that teach you new techniques or new things about the world. Yet at some point it becomes necessary to do more, to take learning about your craft to the next level.

So how do you do this without spending thousands of dollars and hours getting an MFA?

I’ve talked a lot about the value of a writing group in the last few weeks, but you can step it up a notch by taking an online course. Several universities now offer free writing courses, and some writing communities offer them to members as well.

Still, sometimes what you need to reinvigorate your writing is an investment. We work hard to earn our money, and we’re more likely to take something seriously if we paid for it out of pocket. And thanks to the internet, you can find courses catered to people at any stage of their writing life with a wide range of prices.

Assessing what you need

Before you even start looking at the many courses available, figure out what you really need from a writing course. Do you need a course to help you finish a novel? Is it the submission process that’s giving you trouble now? Will you be satisfied with recorded video instruction, or do you need personalized advice and feedback from a teacher? Maybe all you need is a course with weekly exercises to get you back into the writing group, or a quick crash course to refresh your grammar skills.

Whatever you need, there’s probably a course out there designed specifically for that purpose. Don’t spend money on a course unless you’re absolutely sure it will help you deepen your understanding of writing.

Finding the right course

Look through your favourite writing blogs. Many bloggers such as Linda Formichelli and Gabriela Pereira offer writing courses through their websites on different topics. Of course, these all involve varying levels of commitment both financially and mentally, so make sure you’re really prepared for what you’re signing up for. Your favourite bloggers might have also recommended courses they’ve taken, so glance through the archives to see if you can find something interesting.

There are also several sites dedicated to online education in general or writing education which offer many different courses. I’m currently taking a course on YA fiction writing through Udemy, and it’s quite enjoyable. The videos are perfect to get me into the mood for working on my WIP, and the courses are quite affordable. If you’re looking for something with more intense, personalized instruction try the Gotham Writer’s Workshop.

The right course will be worth every penny you spent, and will help take your writing–and your perception of writing–to the next level.

Have you ever taken a writing course, online or in person? What was it like?