Thursday, 24 April 2014

World Building 101

It's a disheartening experience to be part way through editing a first draft to find you haven't actually written a whole section.




Worse, you realise that the reason you didn't write it was because you had no idea what you wanted to say. You knew it had to be said, but the content, the very basics of 'this is my topic sentence' never came.

I faced this problem a few weeks ago with one of my new books; The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp. The purpose of the book is to build up the strength, endurance and necessary technical skill for a particular project before actually starting to draft. And reading through the draft, there are a lot of good ideas in there, if I do say so myself.

But on Day 3, when creating a framework for the tone, setting and characters of the soon-to-be novel, I had the heading for a vital subject, world building, but no content.

Where do you start in developing a quick and easy method for world building?

Well, thank you for asking. Since I'm rather proud of this piece of cross-discipline work, I thought I would share it with you today.

First I should mention that I'm talking more in terms of the characters' everyday world, rather than the more technical physical world building, where you are deciding between two suns or three. As I challenge my reader in the book, it's about understanding if, how and why your characters buy milk.

So where did I start?

Well, don't let anyone tell you a degree in archaeology is useless, for what does it spend a lot of time doing? Defining and categorising civilisations. And luckily for us writers, it has a very neat systems for doing so.

All major aspects of a culture can be considered under one of four headings. Thus, by taking the time to define and enumerate these four areas, an author can get a quick and easy in depth understanding of the characters' society, and possibly culture clashes they might encounter.

Ok, enough teasing, the four categories are ... economical, religious, political and social.

Now, let me expand these for you a little bit.


There are a set number of ways people can trade goods within a society. There are also requirements and restrictions on these different forms. Break these fundamental rules, or ignore them, and your book will be less believable. For example, it's not possible to have a purely barter based economy in very large societies, mainly because it's too difficult to connect with all the people that can supply your needs. Similarly, it's unlikely to have a free market economy with a very controlling government. The main basic systems available are: barter economies, traditional economies (resources distributed by the same groups in the same ways as they have for a long time), command/planned economies (government decides), and market economies, (individuals and companies decide), mixed economies (part market part command).
 (In the book I go through in detail what's involved and how it can be used by writers, but that's why it's a book and not a blog post. Sorry.)

Exercise: to get you thinking, describe how your main character buys milk in the morning, or if they can't, why they can't.


This field does not necessarily need to refer to beliefs in a higher being. Some science fiction might have societies that have no ritual practices. Regardless, you need to think of what religion does: answers the big questions. Every society that has conscious beings should be asking and finding some answers to the 'why's of life.

For example, in this culture, what do they believe happens after death? What is the ultimate purpose to life?

These are important questions which you need to know your character's answers to. Even if you never write a word of their beliefs, their actions should be dictated by these beliefs. Can be awfully useful if you get them into a situation where you aren't sure what they are going to do.


So, it turns out there are a multiple different ways to approach defining a culture's political systems, depending on which aspects you're interested in. Sociologists and anthropologists have both studied political systems but with different focuses. 

Anthropologists are particularly interested in the size and grouping of the systems, so categorise political systems into two uncentralised and two centralised types; band and tribe, chiefdom and state.

Sociologists, on the other hand, are more interested in the figure holding power, and the relationship between the government and its people. They consider three types of political systems: authoritarian, monarchies and democracy.

Try mixing up different elements of the two and see where your main character is in the political structure, what power they have, and how the system effects them.


This is a very vague term in the English language which can include all the elements we have discussed already; religion, economy and politics. In fact, all the different aspects or features of societies include: communities, culture, economy, education, government, identity, infrastructure, institutions, land, law and law enforcement, military, natural resources, people, politics, social control, social structure, technology and wealth. I decided to list them all, because they might spark off ideas of areas you could differentiate your society, such as an abundance of a particular natural resource, or a peculiar form of social control.

While that long list hopefully sparked some ideas for you, an easier to define model has been created by sociology. It identifies six types of society based on their levels of technology and how they subsist. These include: hunter gatherer, horticultural, pastoral, agricultural, industrial and postindustrial.

Of course, these levels are based on the societies that have developed on this planet, and as you will see the last few have been recent creations. Therefore, it is entirely possible that a completely different system can and will develop, or might have already in your world.

And those are the basics of creating your own world. If you can outline the political system, and from that the economic, the religious and the social, then you can get a very good feel for how your character lives their everyday life.

So why not pick up some basic sociology books to add to your reading list (until my brilliant Bootcamp comes out, of course)? You never know when it might come in handy.

ROW 80 Check In:

So, first week of my term down and dusted, yah!
How did I go with my goals?
I completed at least 2 hours of editing everyday since last check in. Go me.
I went to the gym Tuesday and Wednesday (as it was closed Monday, and I've flown down to Melbourne today/Thursday). So, pretty good.
Didn't write anymore blog posts, some technical failures can be used as a vaguly plausible excuse.
Um, okay, so 1 out of 3 tweets is better than none, right?
And don't even ask about visiting other sites.

But I'm very happy with the editing I've gotten done. Still on track at the moment to get my 1920's romance published Sunday, maybe Monday.

In great news, my GoodReads pre-launch giveaway just finished, and over 1,300 people signed up! Furthermore, over 500 people have added it to their 'to read' list. Now, I just need some of those people to actually buy the book and write reviews. Will you be one of them? (stay tuned for actual publish date, and introductory price).

Why not add it to your 'to read' shelf? After The Winter, it's coming soon. (The Winter Is Coming... no, that's another series, sorry.)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Start Of A New Term and The Benefits of Serialisation

Start of Term:

One of the great things about working at a school, other than getting a whole lot of paid holiday, is that your life is neatly divided up into manageable chunks: 4 terms, each time a chance to re-prioritise and get down to business.

(For those of you who don't have such an easy, inbuilt system, a writing challenge like Round Of Words in 80 Days is a great alternative.)

Today is my first day back at work, so time to look at how I went last term, and what I can do to improve and move forward this term.

Last term I was overly optimistic about how much I would be able to get done while settling into a new job, etc. In the end I managed to do a few edits of After The Winter, get the cover done, and do one edit of The Five Day Writer's Bootcamp.

So this term I think I might set myself more realistic goals.

My major priority for the term is to establish a strong routine. Yes, I have specific things that I want to get done, but my focus is going to be on doing a bit each day, and not always thinking 'oh, but today is special, I don't have to do it today, I'll do it tomorrow'. This is a recipe for disaster.

So, considering I work a rotating roster of 4 days on, 2 days off, the goals for my work days are:
- Two hours of writing or editing/day
- Gym every work day that I can (gym not open on Sundays)
- One blog post/day
- Visit at least one blog/day 
- One tweet/day
- Read 1/2 a book/ work week.

I think that should be pretty manageable.

The next big question is what am I working on?

After The Winter: my 1920's romance - I've just (today) finished going through the notes returned by my editor. It really made a big difference to the writing so thank you Anna. Tomorrow, I'm going to print off a paper copy and do the final proof-reading edit by hand (I find more typos that way). Hope to get it all finished by the end of the week, and get it published over the weekend. Yah!

Once that is gone, I've started writing out the story notes for a contemporary romance serial about internet dating. What are serials, you ask? Good question.

The Wonders of Serials:

A serial, compared to a series, is a story told over a number of episodes that eventually form one book, very much like a TV show will have episodes which are individual stories but are still part of an overarching storyline that is the season. A series, on the other hand, is a number of books.

I'm going to be writing my serial in roughly 12,000 word episodes, with seven episodes to a season. I plan to publish one episode every fortnight as an ebook until all seven have been published and then bundle them together into a print on demand paper copy.  (My hope is to be able to write each episode in a week, then have the second week to edit it, and so publish one every fortnight. Will have to see how this goes.)

I've been very excited about the serial concept since I first heard about it on The Self Publishing Podcast, probably about a year ago now. So I'm thrilled to be finally testing it out. The basic theory with serials is that you can get more content out there, faster, for cheaper, which is a great model for self-publishing. It allows people to get a taste of your writing style without too much investment. And if your work is good enough, then they come back each week/fortnight to get the rest of the episodes, or wait until the end of the season when you bundle them all together and publish them as a single book.

It is not at all a new concept for authors. This is how Dickens and many others produced a lot of their work, serializing it in a newspaper or magazine, then collating them as a book at the end. 

It is also not an unusual idea for modern readers, who get their TV in the same way. There are those who rush home each Thursday night to watch the latest episode and be the first to know what happens, and there are those who wait to get the whole season and watch it in a block.

For self-published authors it has a lot of advantages. As already mentioned, it gets more work out there, faster, and is more affordable for people to take a risk on (generally serial episodes are around 99c, and then bundled together for something like $4.95). However, it also allows you to do a lot more with KDP Select.

With a normal book, you get 5 days on KDP Select to give it away for free. This gets it free advertising, but unless you have another book for customers to buy, or it does spectacularly well, not much is gained. With a serial, you have five days per episode, so if you have 10 episodes in one season, that's 50 days of free advertising for that book. Further, you aren't giving away the entire book for free, only ever 1/10 of it. When people download episode 3 for free, they might still buy episodes 1 and 2. Each time you list an episode for free, you get back sales.

All this for the same amount of work that you would normally put into writing a book.

Of course, your writing still needs to be good. And you still need to get cover design (which hopefully you can easily modify for each episode), and each episode needs to be edited. Also, it is more difficult to write as you can't go back and change things later on (without seriously upsetting your audience). However, those are difficulties that you can definitely plan against.

So when am I getting my first episode out?

Well, I'm not sure yet, but you'll definitely be the first to know.

And while you are waiting, why not sign up to my GoodReads giveaway for the chance to win one of ten free copies of After The Winter (closes 24th April)? Also, adding it to your shelf is much appreciated :D

Friday, 18 April 2014

Quick Note, Check Me Out!

Just a quick note to point you across to Christian Writer's Downunder, where I've done a guest post looking at the four parts of the creative nature.
It's rather good, if I do say so myself.
(Long time First Drafters will have heard the concepts before, but it was a nice refresher even for me).

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour Continued!

In my last post I put up my answers to Adele Jones' writing process blog tour. However, I failed at continuing the blog tour, not being able to find someone to carry on the torch.

I can now rectify that situation!

Lisa from has very kindly offered to pick up where I left off. On Wednesday 9th April she will be posting her answers to the four writing process questions.

My Photo

Lisa is a fellow Australian and ROW80 blogger, as well as being an emerging writer and stay at home mum, so she's got some great tips on writing when distracted! She is currently editing three novellas and is exploring the world of self-publishing.

So, a big thank you to Lisa, and I recommend you all bounce on over and check out her blog before the big day.