The Ultimate Plot Creation Resource List

quill-175980_640Once you’ve figured out the basics of your world and gotten to know your characters pretty well, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the plot. If your novel planning process is moving along at the proper pace, you should already have an idea what your plot looks like.

Now it’s time to figure out all the details. Well, not all the details. At least a few details should be figured out as you go along, because the best stories grow organically.

But you do need to know the basic structure of your plot before you start writing the first draft of your novel, at least if you want to write a first draft you might actually be able to salvage someday. So I’ve compiled a pretty large collection of resources designed to help you plot a novel.

Remember: there is no right or wrong way to plot a novel. Try as many as you need to until you find the one that works best for you.

Plotting Resources

1. The 4 Story Structures That Dominate Novels – This is an article on Writer’s Digest that details different story structures commonly used in novels. If you have only a very basic idea—or no idea at all—how your story will be structured, this is a really good place to start.

2. How to Structure a Story: The Eight-Point Arc – An explanation of one way you can structure your story. It’s a fairly detailed article that should give you lots of food for thought.

3. Nanowrimo Prep: The Ultimate Plot Development Guide – I haven’t actually read through this whole thing yet, but there’s an interesting article and a downloadable guide that comes with a plot building worksheet. This seems like just as good a place as any to go when you’re prepared to start fleshing out your plot.

4. The Snowflake Method – One method for planning a novel that lots and lots of writers absolutely love. I find this kind of outlining to be way too rigid for my tastes, but to each their own, right?

5. The Best Approach to Story Structure: From Aristotle to Dramatica – This is a pretty interesting article with a lot of food for thought on the subject of story structure/plotting. Some good reading to do before you start nailing down the details of your plot.

6. How to Create Story Structure to Die For – A fairly detailed article about creating excellent story structure on the Write to Done blog.

7. 25 Things You Should Know About Story Structure – Although I’ve only read one of his books I can tell you Chuck Wendig is a great author. He’s also a great blogger and seems to me to be an all around great guy. If you found Limyaael’s rants entertaining, you’ll love this—and find it useful to boot.

8. Novel Plotting Worksheets – If you really prefer to use worksheets to plot your novels, or you’re simply interested in trying a different approach, you can find a couple novel plotting worksheets here. You’ll also find a handy character chart and a link to a resource with more worksheets.

9. How to Create a Book that will Keep Readers Reading – Plot Worksheet – This is a pretty detailed plot worksheet that should help you create an engaging story you’ll actually be able to edit into a publishable novel.

10. Writing a Young Adult Series – An article that, despite its focus on one genre, can be helpful to anyone planning a series. You might not be writing every book in your series during November, but you should have an idea what they’re all going to look like, and what the overall story is. This article has some useful thoughts on how you can do just that.

11. Plot Structures for Books in a Series – More thoughts on how to structure novels within a series.

12. The Challenges of Writing a Series – And one more post on the challenges of writing a series because frankly, it’s challenging. After all, you want to set things up in the first book so that there’s appropriate foreshadowing for things in later books, which means you need to outline the whole thing before writing the first book.

13. Michael Crichton’s Method for Plotting out a Story – I think the title really says it all for this one.

14. How to Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps – If you don’t want to use a worksheet but you still want to create a solid outline before you start your first draft, this article can help you do so.

15. Plot Development – A pretty detailed article about plot development that should help you create something worthwhile, especially when combined with one of the outlining methods linked to in this article.

16. Golden Rules for a Good Plot – Five rules and a couple useful links that will help you write a novel worth reading.

17. 6 Writing Outline Templates and 3 Reasons to Use Them – An article about the importance of outlines, with links to outline worksheets you can download.

18. Plotting a Romance Novel – If you’re considering writing a romance novel—or you’ve already decided it’s a good idea—this article is for you. It might also be helpful if you’re trying to write a book where romance is a major component, but not actually the main storyline.

19. Outlining Your Novel: Why and How – Another great article about the purpose of outlines, along with a guide to creating them.

20. First Steps in Plotting a Novel – A brief article that will help you plan the beginning of your novel.

21. Plotting a Novel – This article details the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. There’s actual software for this available if you’re interested in using the method yourself. From my understanding there’s also a book, if you prefer to learn that way.

22. How J.K. Rowling Plotted Harry Potter with a Hand-Drawn Spreadsheet – Admit it. Every time you finish reading a book that leaves an impression, you want to know how it was planned. Well, J.K. Rowling’s actually enlightened the public to a fair bit of her writing process. Enjoy!

23. Famous Authors’ Hand-Written Outlines for Great Works of Literature – On this site you can actually see the hand-written outlines several famous authors have created. I don’t know how much it will help you plot your own novel, but it is really cool to see these famous novels planned out like this.

24. 7 Ways to Add Great Subplots to Your Novel – This is another article from Writer’s Digest, this time discussing how to add interesting subplots to your novel. After all, the best novels always have more than one thing going on.

25. 5 Ways to Write a Killer Plot Twist – Everybody loves a good plot twist done right. This article will help you get it right every time.

26. What is Plot – How to Write a Story from Beginning to End – A fairly detailed article that will help you think your plot through properly and make sure you write a story actually worth reading. After all, you don’t want to spend an entire month on something that isn’t worthwhile, do you?

27. Special Fiction Writing Week: Creating a Plot – You’ll find some great information on plot creation in this article and you’ll also find a couple useful links. Realistically, Men with Pens is a blog you should probably be following anyway. Just thought I’d throw the idea out there.

28. Thoughts on Plot by Famous Writers – This is a great collection of quotes which will hopefully help you plan a better novel and stay inspired when the plotting gets tough.

29. Before You Can Write a Good Plot, You Need to Write a Good Place – An article discussing the importance of your setting to creating a great story.

30. The Best Advice on Plotting I’ve Ever Heard – A pretty useful article that happens to be located on a writing blog you might want to spend some time exploring before moving on to the next resource.

31. Plots and Stories – An article that outlines the differences between plots and stories, discusses how they work together, and how stories without strong plots can still work on occasion. There’s some pretty interesting stuff here.

32. Constructing Plot – This article goes through the various elements of plot and shows how you can use them to construct a worthwhile novel.

33. 5 Major Plotholes in Otherwise Great Movies – Okay, I’ll be fair, this isn’t really a writing resource. At the same time, everything is a writing resource. Movies, just like books, consist of characters, setting, plot and story. And knowing what to avoid is just as important as knowing what to do.

34. How to Write a Good Game Story – Again, this article isn’t focused on books, but it is focused on story and plot. And studying any kind of story is worthwhile, so it’s on the list.

35, It’s Just a Phase – This article walks you through the creation of a phase outline, which is a pretty intensive form of outlining I find way too extreme that might just work for you anyway. There are also a lot of useful articles on the Forward Motion website.

36. 25 Ways to Plot, Plan and Prep Your Story – Another great article written by Chuck Wendig. If you go through all 25 you’ll probably end up with a pretty solid plot. I’ve never worked through them all in order from this list, so if you do, I’d love to hear about it and the results you get.

37. Choosing the Best Outline Method for You – One last article from Writer’s Digest which will help you decide which of these many different outlining methods you can actually use.

Outlining a novel might seem tedious, but it’s essential to creating a worthwhile first draft. Even with an outline you might find your first draft too messy to be salvageable, but I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to tell your story is still worthwhile.

Outlining your novel before you begin also helps you decide whether or not you actually want to spend a month or more on this novel. After all, you can’t really know if an idea is worthwhile until you’ve spent some time examining it and discovering more about it.

If you know of any plotting resources that really should be on this list, let me know in the comments below or shoot me an email at diannalgunn @ gmail.com .

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?

Getting to know your characters through a character diary

beauty-354570_640There are at least as many different ways to create believable, interesting characters your readers can care about as there are good writers. In fact, after all the time I’ve spent running around looking for resources on character creation in the last couple of weeks, I suspect there might actually be more character creation and development exercises than there are writers–quality or otherwise.

One of my favourite ways to get intimately familiar with my characters is to create a character diary for them.

Here’s how it works:

Every day for a specified period of time–whether it’s a week, a month, or just until Nanowrimo starts–you write one page describing a normal day in your character’s life. This should be at some point shortly before your story begins, so you know you’re getting in touch with the character voice you’ll be using during Nanowrimo.

Pay special attention to how your character writes their journal. Is it simply a recording of the day’s events, or is the character trying to work through some kind of trauma? Do they just recite the facts, or do they embellish and go off on tangents?

How your character journals will tell you just as much about them as knowing what their daily routines are.

Have you ever written a character diary before? Why/why not?

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!

4 Great Places to Get Inspired Online

Writing2 How are your creative muscles feeling? Are you between big fiction projects? Need something to do in the meantime?

Writing exercises are a great way to hone specific skills, explore interesting characters or settings, and get yourself writing in different styles–possibly even different genres.

Right now I’m working on some pretty interesting series of posts about great charities, building self confidence, and planning a novel. I’ve got a pretty good idea what the rest of my year is going to look like in terms of writing and I’m excited to see what surprises I’ll encounter along the way.

While I get busy writing some intense articles, stretch your creative muscle with one of these four sites:

1. Forward Motion Random Idea Generator — If you’re looking for interesting ideas in the science fiction or fantasy genres, this is a great place to start. As things by writers for writers tend to be, it’s a little silly at times but the prompts are pretty interesting.

2. First 50 Words — is a blog where you’ll find a writing prompt every day. You’re invited to use the prompt and post the first 50 words of the story or poem you create in the comments section. It’s run by an author named Virginia DeBolt, and you also get to read her first 50 words for each prompt. They’re usually pretty interesting snippets.

3. Writing Exercises — seems to be pretty accurately named. They’ve got a whole bunch of random idea generators, including character traits and random jobs. If you’d like to actually do some more serious exercises, they also have a handful of interesting character exercises.

4. Writer’s Digest — is a great place for writers to find all kinds of useful information. This link leads to a series of 12 interesting writing exercises. You’ll find many more on the website along with author interviews and articles about pretty much every aspect of the writing life.

One of the greatest things about the internet is that there are dozens of great resources for writers out there just waiting to be found. You can also find several good books dedicated entirely to creative writing exercises. I’ve always found the internet capable of meeting my needs. You can find hundreds of interesting prompts and writing exercises on just these four sites.

How often do you stretch your creative muscles with writing exercises? Do you know other great places to find writing exercises?

Share them–along with your thoughts–in the comments below!

Keeping Factsheets

Last year I wrote about creating a factsheet about your story, but this year I’d like you to take it to the next level. I’d like you to create factsheets—pages of point form notes—documenting everything you know about the following things:

Your world— what time period is your world set in? What are the places your characters live in called? Is there magic or high technology? Perhaps there’s no technology. How do they document time? What religions are common? Anything you know about your world should be put on one piece of paper you can easily refer to as you write your novel.

Every character— every character that has a significant part to play in your story should have a fact sheet with every piece of information you know about them. This will help you when you’re trying to remember what colour eyes your main character’s second cousin has, and is especially useful if you have a large cast or a first person narrator.

Every place— if your characters do a lot of travelling, you’ll probably want separate factsheets for every town/city/country they visit. Creating one for every inn is excessive, but if you’re working with large noble households, you might want one for each of them.

The story itself— what must happen? What are you heart set on including in your novel? This should be something you can base a solid outline on, and will be a place where you can note how your novel changes during the month, because believe me, it will.

Once you’ve created these factsheets, put them in a file that you can keep at your workspace. Every time you work on planning your novel you should be updating one of these sheets, and you should keep updating them throughout the writing process. Keeping notes of everything you know and everything you learn about your world, characters and setting will make editing much easier. Not only does it help you prevent continuity errors in the draft itself, but it allows you to incorporate major changes into a full rewrite without reading the entire first draft.

This is something I’ve only been doing for the last two years, and if I’d started keeping factsheets sooner I probably would’ve skipped three drafts of Moonshadow’s Guardian. So take the time today to create your factsheets and make a place for them in your writing space.

Create a Legend

No matter what kind of novel you’re planning to write next month, and even if you haven’t gotten that hammered out yet, creating a legend can still be a useful exercise. We’ve all heard urban legends before so don’t let a modern setting sway you from this exercise. I’ve even had full fledged novels emerge from short two page legends, so take some time this weekend and make sure you create yours.

What do I mean when I say a legend/myth?

By this I mean a story that everyone in your main setting—whether that be a village, a town, a household or an entire country—knows and knows well, that may or may not be true. Usually these involve great heroes and have some sort of lesson in the way they’re told, but they could just be a fun story… or history that nobody believes anymore, the choice is yours. You can also choose your own word count goal for this exercise, but it should be at least a page.

Take your inspiration from the Encyclopedia Mythica and please leave the first sentence of your legend/myth in the comments below.

Filling The Well

Your Inkwell of Creativity
Life can sometimes exhaust you to the point where your creative well seems empty, but I assure you there is always something there in the depths. You just need the right trigger to bring it out. There are several strategies I use when I feel like my brain is too exhausted to think creatively.

These are the four strategies I use most often to find new ideas:

1. Brainstorm. I use a few different brainstorming techniques depending on how I’m feeling. Sometimes I do a basic mind map around the story I need to work on. I particularly like the Calling Down Lightning technique invented by Holly Lisle, which you can learn more about here.

2. Research. Sometimes all it takes is learning about something new and interesting to get you inspired. You do have to be careful with this one, so stick to one site or one documentary. I’ve gotten dozens of ideas from history and mythology, but you might find yours in science or psychology.

3. Read something. Originally this said ‘read something awesome’, but sometimes reading terrible things is just as inspiring. The best advice is to read widely as often as you can. Read everything. Sometimes I find it helpful to focus on stories in my genre, other times I find I get more from reading the complete opposite.

4. Ask the internet. When all else fails, sometimes you have to ask the internet. You can either ask Google anything or straight up ask your social media networks for ideas relating to your project. I like to ask Twitter for blog post ideas, and I actually got this one from @RedParrots, a dear friend from Nanowrimo.

Some people like to use writing prompts from the internet, and I do occasionally go to The First 50 Words, but I rarely find prompts that lead me anywhere successful. These techniques are far better for specific projects, and I use them far more often than any prompt book or traditional writing site.

How do you fill your creative well?