If you've been around Quill Pen Writer for long enough, one thing is pretty clear; I LOVE worldbuilding. I'm talking full on adorati...

If you've been around Quill Pen Writer for long enough, one thing is pretty clear; I LOVE worldbuilding. I'm talking full on adoration for soaking myself into another world, and figuring out everything from where to place mountains to the values of a people group to why half-horses, half-lions like to play with flowers. It's so much fun!

So today I'm going down to the very basics of worldbuilding itself. I have a tendency to skip building the foundation and start creating magic systems without making sure the world fits together as a whole. Everything has to flow, or the reader will be left confused and disorientated. Consider this post a reminder for the both of us!

When worldbuilding, everything falls into two categories; the material, and the intangible. Both are equally important and rely on the other to make the world coherent and realistic. Let's have a look at what each one is.

The Material

Simply put, the material is everything that is physical in the story world. It's the backdrop for your story, but it goes beyond setting. It includes the weather, biomes, geography, creatures, locations, the rules and laws of the world, and so on. If you (or your characters) can touch it and interact with it with one of the five senses, it will be the material.

In this world, the material would be the differing continents, the gum trees swaying in the warm breeze outside my window, the red dirt under my fingernails, and the roads that cut through my city like knives of concrete. These are all things I can either experience for myself, or learn from the experiences of others.

The Intangible

If the material is everything you can interact with, the intangible is everything you can't. If you were to pick up the world of your story and put it into a juicer, the essence that came out would be the intangible. (It's a weird analogy, I know.) More often than not, the intangible is everything created by intelligent or divine beings, or God. 

On Earth, the intangible often takes form in abstract ideas like culture, opinions, people groups, history, belief systems, myths. It could even be emotions such as love or hatred, though these are linked to the physical since they are felt in both realms. Spiritual experiences also fall into this category.

What Does This Have to Do with World Building?

I'm so glad you asked. We've already covered that the material and intangible are the building blocks, so let's look at how that should affect our worldbuilding; they should never be in isolation. Just as how our world is complex, and how the material constantly shapes or is shaped by the intangible, so too should it be in your story world.

Let's look at an example. Say that you're trying to expand the different kinds of  ethnicities in your world, and when you're looking at your map, you see that there's a large desert unoccupied, so you place them there. This ethnicity's location will drastically shape their culture and the way they view the world. Because of the lack of water, they might become nomads, moving from oasis to oasis as they follow the rain. This would change what they value. Perhaps the lack of stability in a physical home means that family, which goes wherever they go, is the strength and foundation of their culture. Family, when you have little else, means everything. Or perhaps this lack of water means that water itself has become something sacred, and was the focus of stories until it became a god itself.

The material has a huge affect on the intangible, because people respond to their environments. They adapt. To have a people group in the desert who have built a city with no permanent water source, and who throw water away without a care...is totally unrealistic. The building blocks aren't working together.

Does that mean that you're restricted when creating cultures and histories to the environment they're in? Of course not. It will limit elements that you can include, but just because you've drawn border lines doesn't mean that there's not a huge scope of imagination within them. If anything, it could push you to move beyond the obvious to think about what could be unique and make sense.

What If I Have an Idea for the Intangible First?

This happens to me all the time. I might have a specific cultural element that begs me to explore it, and so I do. There's nothing wrong with this. Working out how the material shapes the intangible is one method, but you can also do it backwards. It's simply a matter of rather than asking How does this change people and their culture? to Why is it this way?

For example, back at the beginning of my writing journey, I had the idea to have a group of people wear tiny glass bottles around their necks, in which were roses. The roses would represent their life, the number of petals their age, it would wilt if they were sick or dying, and so on. But I had no idea how or why they had these necklaces. So I brainstormed. Elements started falling into place; the necklaces had been a gift from their god to remind them of the fragility yet beauty of life. Why did they need reminding? I came to the conclusion that they had often engaged in wars with no care for the lives they took. From there I wondered what the wars were for, which led me to the realization that they were in an area low in natural resources and so fought for them, which meant that they would be in a certain biome and... You get the idea.

The beauty of worldbuilding is that you are the weaver of the tapestry. Just as tapestries have two threads, one running vertically, one horizontally, so too does worldbuilding. The material and the intangible play off of one another and form the base of a masterpiece. The key is to link them, so the world seems like a whole!

Do you often start with material or intangible ideas when worldbuilding? Which building block do you tend to focus on? What worldbuilding post would you like next?
Have a wonderful day! <3

The Language of Worlds is back, and I couldn't be happier! I've been wrestling with a character in my latest and most stubborn WIP s...

The Language of Worlds is back, and I couldn't be happier! I've been wrestling with a character in my latest and most stubborn WIP so far, Call of the Vanished, so Liv's timing was impeccable. For those of you who don't know, The Language of the Worlds is a bimonthly link-up, and though it's tailored towards those writing speculative Christian fiction, anyone is welcome to join!

Now for a (VERY rough) blurb for Call of the Vanished, before we get into the questions!

When the portal to another world opened in Lonnie's backyard, his older sister leapt through in the name of adventure, leaving him behind at six. Ever since, Lonnie has had hallucinations. Convinced he's crazy by psychiatrists and himself, he ignores the man that shadows him everywhere. Then one day the man tells Lonnie about an interworld exchange program, before it makes the news, and that if he doesn't apply, danger awaits his sister. Lonnie brushes it off as another illusion. Yet when a new memory of his sister's disappearance surfaces, one far more sinister, he too steps through the portal, desperate to know the truth.

But in a new world of magic, there is no such thing.

1) In five words or less, how would you describe your character?

Lonnie: Hidden cracks, "this is reality."

2) When do they see an opportunity for self-improvement?

Practically every moment of the day. He mentally kicks himself for caving into fears, or for doing something the slightest bit wrong, or for still seeing the man following him everywhere.

3) How do they view themself (good, evil, neutral, etc.)?

Lonnie considers himself mentally unstable, as a result of being diagnosed with PTSD and possible psychosis. As a result he doesn't trust himself to do most tasks, apart from caring for his grandma.

4) Is there a story that inspires them? What is it?

When Lonnie was younger his sister Maisy used to tell him stories before bed, mostly about ducks. And though he'd never admit it now, he could recite to you by heart "The Day David the Duck Defeated Death Dog". When he was six it gave him courage to walk down the street without being terrified of his neighbours' dogs, and he still mumbles it to himself when he's highly stressed.

5) What proverb or quote do they identify with?

He hasn't read the Bible (yet), so the quote that scares him with how much he relates to it is "Sometimes the worst place you can be is in your own head."

6) What does their standard day look like?

On weekdays he wakes up early to make breakfast for himself and his grandma, then wakes her up and helps her take her medicine. By the time breakfast is finished and the care nurse comes over, he dashes off to school, where he's in his second final year. After school he usually works at the local post office until the evening, then he goes home to make dinner, shower, do any homework, and flop into bed. It's a rhythm that keeps him from thinking about the man shadowing him everywhere.

7) When they picture their ideal day, how does it go?

Lonnie doesn't let himself think of ideals much, he knows he's not going to be successful after graduation, and he needs to stay in their small town anyway for his grandma. But if he could change one thing, it would be to cut his claimed hallucinations out of his day.

8) Do they have a favorite memory? If so, what happened?

It's a memory where he, his sister before she left, and his grandma before she got dementia, are all out in the backyard watching the stars. Maisy spotted a shooting star, but then pulled Lonnie into a hug. "I don't wanna wish for anythin' else," she said.

9) Where do they see themself in five years?

Still working in the post office, and caring for his grandma. He suspects that he won't have any friends around since they'll all have left for city universities and jobs where the lights always shine. And still driving three hours a month to see a psychiatrist who's supposed to be helping him. 

10) What is their life dream?

If he dared admit it, there's a girl in town he's always liked, called Summer. He's pretty sure if he was going to marry anyone, it would be her. Not that she knows it. He barely has allowed room in his head for the classic dream---wife, house, kids---let alone something radical.

Let me hear about your writing! What are you working on at the moment? What is your character's life dream? How would you describe your character in five words or less?
Have a wonderful day! <3

It's now officially been a month since I stopped being a teen and entered young adulthood. As I was redoing my blog design, I revisited ...

It's now officially been a month since I stopped being a teen and entered young adulthood. As I was redoing my blog design, I revisited my About section, and realised that I can no longer put "teen writer" into every single blurb I write for social media and websites. Despite still feeling like a teenager, in classic Melissa-style, I reflected back on what my teen self's writing dreams, aspirations, and hopes were.

Then something struck me: I'd always said I wanted to be published as a teen.

And you know what? I'd forgotten.

It should have hit me with a wave of sadness realising that meeting that goal could never be achieved now. (Despite eighteen having the word teen in it, apparently I'm an adult?) But it didn't. If anything, I remembered it and thought "Oh yeah that was my goal once."

I know that there are a lot of writers out there who want to publish while they're still in their teens. For some reason, we all think that this is the ultimate prize, the ultimate badge to wear as a teen writer.

Today I'm going to challenge that.

You don't need to publish a book when you're in your teens. The world and your writing career will not end if you reach eighteen and your hardback copy isn't cradled in your arms.

So why do so many of us have this idea that it will?

I wonder if some of it has to do with pride, with this idea of having people flood in praise and wonder that "someone so young could write like this". I wonder if we just think it seems cool to have met a milestone so early. And I wonder if maybe we secretly think that having this achievement will make us better than other writers our age.

I'm now going to ask you something: why rush? Why are we in such a hurry to get our books out and on shelves, when our lives are really just beginning? What darkness is breathing in our ears to get published now get published now now now now or you're a failure. Look at all these teens putting books out on the market. Why haven't you published? Failure, failure!

My friend, would you rather have a story half polished and thrown onto Amazon so you can be known as a "published teen writer", or a story that you have laboured and loved over for years, edited until you can't anymore, published when you're an adult?

Don't rush the writing process to reach a goal that, attractive as it might be, won't benefit you as a writer in the end. Are we writing for praise and achievement, or to touch hearts and weave worlds out of words?

If you have poured years of blood, sweat, and heart into a story and you're a teen when you're publishing it, amazing! You get an extra little sprinkle of glitter. If you've done the same thing, and you're not a teen when it's released, still amazing!

What I'm trying to say here is that when you publish your novel or story is not the important part. The most important part is that it's a piece of work that you're proud of, something you can say you've edited as much as you can, and now are ready to share with the world. Whether that story is ready when you're a teen or not, who can say?

To all the teen writers, don't pressure yourself to write and edit and release before the teens leave you. Take your time. Your story, and your readers, will thank you for it.

If you're a teen writer, are you hoping to publish in your teens? If you're not, did you once have that goal? What are your thoughts on this deadline we seem to put on ourselves?
Have a wonderful day! <3

Somehow, due to the strange occurrence called 'time', it is now 2019. I was musing over what to write for this post yesterday (yes I...

Somehow, due to the strange occurrence called 'time', it is now 2019. I was musing over what to write for this post yesterday (yes I am a very last minute blogger), about what would set the tone for Quill Pen Writer this year. One thing I always love to do here on this blog is help you all with your writing. So, I hope today to make a helpful addition to my 'Questions to Ask When...' series, for all of you who are writing stories with alternate worlds!

What do I mean by alternate worlds? My definition is a world separate to, yet attached to Earth in some way. It could range from a world underneath ours, a secret one hidden within it, on a different timeline, or something else! The alternate world for my current WIP, Call of the Vanished, is connected to our world by a single piece of history, and a newly opened portal.

So now that we've got the definitions all set, to the questions!

1) How is the AW (alternate world) connected to ours? Is it by a particular place, a portal, a person, or location?

2) Who knows about the AW? Is it kept a secret, or is its existence public knowledge? If it's a secret, why? Does anyone know about it? If its public knowledge, how long has it been so?

3) Who lives in the AW? Is it people, magical creatures, a combination of the two? Do they know about our world?

4) What is the frequency of movement of goods between the AW and this world? Is there established trade? Do people move across often? Are these movements secretive, or public knowledge?

5) If the existence of the AW is secret, who keeps the secret in this world? What measures do they go to to protect it? Is the secret passed down, or is it kept by one individual? If so, what happens if they die?

6) If the existence of the AW is public, what have been the international implications? Has war been declared, or peace treaties made? What does the public think?

Does magic exist in the AW? If so, what kind? What are the limitations of this magic? What is the magic able to do? Who has access to the magic, and would it work in our world? Has it been brought over to our world?

8) How big is the AW? Is it the same size as ours, smaller, or in the smaller spaces of our world (such as underground or in isolated areas)? 

9) What is the environment like? Is the AW varied in terrain types and environments, or is there only one type?

10) How similar is the AW to Earth in terms of plants and animals? Are they all the same, or are there unique types? How would they cope if they were brought to Earth? What do they look like, what do they eat, and what are any unique talents or abilities they might have?

11) If people live in the AW, what is their culture like? What do they value? If they were to be compared to Earth cultures, which one are they most alike to, and which one the least alike? How has their environment shaped their culture? What traditions and celebrations do they have?

12) What religions are prevalent in the AW? Are they similar to those in this world, or completely different? If so, how? What are the creation stories of their world, and how do they perceive the existence of our world?

13) What do the residents of the AW think about people on Earth? Is their opinion positive, negative, or neutral? Why is this the case? What history or people have affected this perception?

14) What do people on Earth think of the AW residents? Is their opinion positive, negative, or neutral? Why is this the case? What history or people have affected this perception?

15) Who was the first person to cross between the worlds? What led them to be able to cross, and what was their motivation for doing so? How long did they remain in the other world? Did they ever return? What happened while they were there, and how did they change from it?

16) Who else, if anyone, has crossed between the worlds? Is travel between them readily permitted, or must they undergo intense training, interrogation, or sneak across in order to make it? Do you have to pay to cross, or complete a task?

17) What is the history and mythology of the AW? When did it come into being? What wars have taken place, and what key figures have changed the course of its history? What stories do they tell, and what legends are held high in esteem?

18) Has anyone ever tried to control the AW from Earth, or the other way around? What reasoning did they have, and did they succeed? How did this affect the relationships between the two worlds? Will there be retaliation in the future?

More in the Questions to Ask When series!
Cities      History      Celebrations      Magic
Characters (Backstory, and Interview)
Schools      Monarchies      Religion (Part 1 and Part 2)     

Have you written a story with an alternate world before? Or read any great books with them? How is your writing going?
Have a wonderful day! <3