Mapping Your World and Creating a Factsheet

With only twelve days before Nanowrimo start, there isn’t much time to finish building your world and planning your novel, so you have to focus on the important details. Creating a map for your world–anywhere from a basic map establishing cities and borders to a complete road map–and a fact sheet to bring together all your knowledge of the world you’ll be writing your novel in is a great way to figure out what you need to know to begin your novel without hours of hard labour. The fact sheet also provides you with a place to put notes when you discover new things about your world. Today I’m going to walk you through the process of creating a bare-bones world with these tools.

Mapping

Mapping is incredibly easy, though you can make it as complex as you like. I always do a simple map on graph paper. Trace out odd shapes–too round or square is odd for land–and turn them into continents and islands. Start by drawing out the physical features of the lands where your story takes place. Use upside down Vs for mountains and draw blue lines and circles for lakes and rivers. For forests, draw small triangles or other simple tree shapes. This is a rough map, so don’t worry about how it looks.

Now, create borders for your kingdoms and label each one. Mark your towns with dots and your cities with stars or other symbols. Castles, bays and docks should be given special markings as well. Drawing in a few roads to give yourself a guideline for how people travel between cities is a good idea, but don’t worry about a complex map with every trail named at this point–unless, of course, you’d prefer to do that.

You might also want to create more local maps, or if you’re working in a real life setting find maps on the internet. Local maps are easy to create as long as you establish symbols for special buildings such as libraries or schools. Of course, real artists can always draw the buildings in more detail so each one stands out, but that’s a lot of time you probably don’t have before November first, so don’t worry about it. You can make pretty maps later; right now what you need is functional.

Creating a Factsheet

For every world I create–and depending on the world, sometimes every culture and even every character–I create a factsheet. This compiles everything I know about the world through writing exercises and brainstorming in one convenient place that I can easily refer to while working on my novel.

Expect that your factsheet will likely be more than one sheet. Odds are as you write down every fact you can think of, you’ll discover more and realize you need to answer more questions. Writing down everything you know about the world makes your notes more accessible and gives you an idea of what you still need to figure out. Armed with that knowledge, you can spend your last few days of preparation filling the holes in your knowledge.

Write down everything you can think of, even if it doesn’t seem right. You can always cross it out later. It’s also a good idea to leave a few blank sheets at the end of your list. This way, you won’t have to squish your notes together or go hunting for paper when you discover something new about your world.

This is also a good time to go back and create factsheets for each of the characters you’ve established and to create a similar sheet with a point form outline of your plot. None of these sheets need to be detailed. Spontaneity in writing is often a good thing, at least in the first draft. Don’t get too attached to these facts either; keep a red pen ready in case you find out some of them aren’t true.

While these simple exercises won’t build a detailed world all on their own, they’ll give you a basic framework from which to build your novel. By the end you should know who lives where and have a good idea of what life is like on your world. That’s the most important thing–after all, half the fun of writing your first draft is the things you discover along the way. And half the fun of Nano is flailing around in a world you don’t yet understand, along with all the other participants.

A Prompt for the New Year

The new year has just begun. This first week is a great time to set the tone for the rest of 2012. We all have our own goals, both writing related goals and completely separate goals, for the new year. If we take the first steps towards those goals now, we’re ahead. Don’t tell yourself you can wait to start working on something because you have the whole year. Start working on it now.

Right now I’m finishing up Birth of a Vampire, a short-ish story that will probably end up a little less than 10K. I’m also formulating a plan to edit my novel. As part of my plan to write and submit twelve pieces of fiction this year, I’m going to be writing an actually short story that I’ll be editing and submitting before February 1st. I’m not going to wait until halfway through the year. I’m tackling my goals now.

Today I’ve got a prompt that will hopefully inspire you and help you along the way to your own writing goals.

Write a scene in which two of your characters go to the marketplace in a country they’ve never been to before.

Think outside the box. Please post your first sentence in the comments section or a link to the piece if you put it on a blog.

5 Short Exercises to Develop Character

Character is for many writers the driving force of their fiction. Knowing your characters thoroughly is just as important as knowing your plot. Sometimes, it’s even more important. When character comes second to plot, characters often seem stereotypical and dialogue becomes wooden. In order to make your fiction come to life you must bring your characters, especially your main character, come to life for the character.

I’ve compiled a list of exercises to help you develop your characters. You can do one of them or all of them for any and all of your characters. How much work you do to prepare for Nanowrimo is really up to you, but it’s good to have a basic grasp of your characters, setting and plot before you begin. It helps to make for less rewriting.

So how can you develop your characters?

1. Interview your character. This is a fairly common technique in which you interview your character as if for a magazine. Ask your character what their favourite colour is, what their childhood was like, and what made them who they are today. If your character is well known for some reason before the story begins, ask them specific questions about what it is that makes them so well known. Write what you learn down on a separate fact sheet afterwards. Fact sheets are very valuable resources to have when you’re in the midst of writing the book. It’s easier when you don’t have to look through pages and pages of prose to find a useful piece of information.

2. Write about your character’s first love. How somebody acts towards somebody they love, or at least claim to love, is usually a pretty good indicator of their personality in general. Focus on how your character feels about this person and how they express their feelings. If they’ve never fallen in love before, write about a very close friend or mentor who they are no longer connected to. By examining how they think about the person they love and how they communicate with that person, you can figure out whether they are trustworthy or not, whether they tend to obsess over people or things, and how they react to loss. Knowing how your character reacts in a number of different situations is vital to making them come to life on the page.

3. Map out your character’s family. Create a family tree for your character. Figure out at least who their parents and siblings are, and whether or not their siblings have children. I prefer to begin with their grandparents. As you’re mapping them out, write down one sentence about each person in the family. When you’ve finished, write a paragraph or two about how they all get along. Take as much or as little time as you need, and write it from anyone’s point of view–a random stranger is fine here, too.

4. Write about the first time your character meets someone–from the other person’s point of view. It’s important to know your characters very well: what they do for entertainment, how they see themselves, and how others see them. Sometimes writing about one of your characters from the point of view of a stranger tells you a lot about that character. It’s good to know how they are when meeting new people and how they come across to others when you’re in the thick of the book. The more you know about how your character interacts with people, the more realistic you can make their interactions throughout the book.

5. Write about what your character does on an ordinary day. Think of this as a Dear Diary post. It’s really up to the character and how they live what is said and how many words it’s said in. If your character lives a boring life or isn’t very wordy, this exercise might only be a couple of sentences. If your character likes to describe things intimately or lives a life of constant adventure, you might write a couple hundred words. Focus on what they do on a normal weekday, whether it be farming, bartending, or running a large corporation. It’s always good to know what your character does when they’re not saving the day in your novel.

I hope these exercises work for you. I’ve done each at least once and I’ve always learned something. Some characters are easier to learn about than others. Just like real people, some of them are shy and others are mean. Some have hard exteriors but are really all gooey on the inside. Some are waiting to kill you in your sleep. Some exercises will work better with one character than with another. Figure out what works for you, and figure out those characters.

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How do you develop character?