Writing the Rules

The judicial system, the laws of physics, the limitations of magic and other laws are all ones to consider when you write speculative fiction. Not only must you decide the laws of your own world and universe, you must ensure characters abide by them and that these characters understand them or grow to understand them. It can be an arduous process but it is a necessary one.

Decide the rules

First, you need to decide the rules. Can spaceships surpass the speed of light? Can magic be used to revive the dead? Do the molecules in the universe work the same way as on Earth?

In my own preferred genre, fantasy, the rules of magic differ per story I write. Not only are there rules for casting the magical spells or using magical items, there are also limitations that are either dependent on a person’s own strength or on the items they use or the experience they have. Decide this for your own world.

Point it out

Next, you need to point it out. Early on in your story, you need to make your audience aware of the magic in your world or the sci-fi technology that can be used. Give a brief introduction that gives the reader a reasonable understanding of what these features can do and what they can not.

Make it matter

Obviously enough, make sure the principles you put into place actually matter. Perhaps the magic faded in your current world so that other challenges exist now but then bring it back at one point so it actually matters that it ever existed. A spaceship can break but implement its existence somewhere so it still matters. This goes for every aspect of your story you decide to implement; make it matter.

Explain it; all or nothing

Personally, I am someone who will explicitly explain what a character does to summon magical powers during the start of a story. I will implement their thoughts, their emotions, their focus, their movements and even their breathing. Why? Because I want to explain the how of the magic in my world. How do people summon it? How do character use it? How do characters control it? How do characters experience it? I like to put in as much detail about this as is humanly possible.

However, that is one of two options when working with magic or speculative technologies. Either you explain everything to the best of your ability (in which case; make sure you understand it yourself through and through) or explain nothing. Yes, I am aware that there are halfway points where you could leave it at, but that is likely very unsatisfying. People are curious by nature. If you are going to explain something to them, give them all the details or they will feel like you are either holding something back or are not sure of the situation yourself.

The option where you explain nothing is also fine. Simply make the features matter and leave it at that. Drive the story forward and distract the audience by the amazing things your world’s features can do. That too is thrilling.

Choose what works for you, for your writing style and for your world.

Play with it

Now I know I have put strict rules up here, but that does not mean you can no longer be creative with it. Surprise yourself, your readers and even your characters by allowing them to implement the magic or technology in unexpected ways. Or, use it for mundane things (invisible umbrellas to ward off rain) to give the magic an overwhelming existence.

I hope this helps or inspires.

Write on, my fellow creatives!

May destiny be kind to you.

Advertisements

Writing About Cultures & Religion

In my current country of residence, we celebrate Sinterklaas; a children’s holiday at the end of fall that consists of gift-giving and the consumption of sweets. The origins of the holiday trace back to a patron saint of sailors. We also celebrate our ruling king or queen once a year, either on their birthday or a day that has been selected by this ruling party themselves. We also spend an evening handing out candy to children who come to our doors and sing a song and carry decorative lamps.

These holidays are but a small portion of the Dutch culture. Culinary endeavors, dress, language, religion and countless other things compose a culture or subculture. The element of a person’s or country’s culture is so exclusive, that it can be as hard to describe as a personality in itself. Culture is simply so extravagant and defining.

In creative writing, culture is also an important aspect to consider. When writing non-speculatively, it is important to understand that characters might be raised within different (sub)cultures and thus you could place them in different mindsets or even make them completely different in behavior.

In speculative fiction, the leashes are loosed on everything and thus also on culture. High fantasy especially, presents an opportunity to create complete cultures. I have encountered many works that assigned new langues to different races across the world. An example is that elves or dwarves speak different languages. Likewise so, do these races appreciate different values and worship different gods.

I myself have also placed gods in my creative world. The four parts of Nivitera rule over everything that can be seen, touched, felt and experienced. Though all are aware of these deities, not all worship them in the same way. In Hyron, to the northeast, the people have constructed large temples in every city; distinct ones for each portion of the gods. They worship them through prayer and offerings and by performing rituals of cleaning themselves within these temples; a symbol of washing clean their souls to allow divinity to enter. Though no saints or sages sit within the temples, a handful of clerics maintain the temple and offer advice and guidance when needed. Hyrians are likely the most religious. They have also adopted many expressions that include the gods or their respective domains.

In Elumia, a large nation to the west comprised of forest, the people are equally aware of their gods but their worship is otherwise. Rather than worshipping the gods directly and within structures, the people worship when and where they like. At the start of every season, the king or queen of the nation hosts a large party and allows the population to display their skills. During summer, the season of Ni, courageous activities are admired during the celebration. During autumn—the season in accordance with Vi—warriors and other champions display feats of strength. Every season follows the characteristics of the gods. Elumians worship the displays of the gods and their creation rather than the gods themselves.

In Cavant and Tearm, two countries that lay in-between the two nations, the gods are likely present. Tearm, being a small yet thriving nation keeps their worship of the gods to a minimal. The country is quite concerned with technological advances instead. Cavant, with prosperous cities and rather lacking farming communities, allows persons to worship on their own. Like Hyron, the Cavantians have adopted a handful of expressions including the gods yet have done so less exclusively. Many persons also choose not to worship at all in any way.

A grand example of a faithful person in my writing is a young lass named Mana. She hails from Hyron and from a politically respected family. Having always been within the lap of leaders and having felt the need to lead and protect others herself, her self-doubt is strong. Often-times in the story, she enters a temple of Ni to ask him for courage and guidance. Her worship compels her to do things she feels she would not do otherwise. It builds a pillar for her personality to grow around so she can make steps in the world that will change the future of the world forever.

Another example is my protagonist Syllin. She comes by grand powers due to hard training and past events that come to her, seemingly by coincidence. As a result of this and a handful of other twists and turns, she finds herself bound to Vi; the god of strength and power. Though grateful, Syllin devotes nothing of herself to the god for her aid. Instead, Syllin wields whatever greatness is thrust upon her by this goddess. In this way, she is greatly opposite to the faithful Mana.

I’d like to think this creates a good balance in the world and an interesting encounter between the two; one that will surely come as I continue writing.

May destiny be kind to you.

Tristin’s Guide to World Building

 I am definitely a prime example of someone who will create a new world for every single story. Here is a basic guide as to how I do this. I wrote this in the past since a friend requested assistance. 

Tristin’s Guide to World Building

Note: My preferred program to use is Gimp so I refer to that in this guide. The reason I often refer to using different layers is so you can also keep your map as a project file and open it in Gimp. You can then show or hide any layers you don’t need at the moment so you focus on the things that are important.

THE BASICS

STEP 1: Rough outline

The first outline of the world I suggest to be drawn by hand. This way you can be very ‘random’ while sketching something. I find that drawing on paper makes it easier to just go with it and let my imagination work. However, if you don’t want to deal with the hassle of paper, you can draw in a program like Gimp too.

1a. If you have a rough idea of how your world should look, you can go with that.

1b. If you are going for a ‘new’ world, just use your imagination and don’t worry too much about the finer details of the map.

My method is often to draw lines that move in random patterns. Sometimes I come up with maps that look unnatural. In this case it is fine to simply try again.

I usually start with only the outline of the world but you are free to add country borders if that’s something you want on your first draft. You can always remove them during the next step.

STEP 2: Digital outline

Next up you need to make your work digital, if you did not digitally draw the rough outline of your map. I do this by scanning my picture with my printer and then transferring it onto my computer. If you drew digitally, you are good to go already.

Basic outline.png

2a. Create a canvas that you would like to use to put your world on. I suggest you don’t underestimate this. I tend to go for 1500 x 2000 pixels (height x width). Depending on whether or not you want a grid function or not, you will need to adjust the pixels so everything works out correctly.

Note: Be sure to set the grid as a new layer. Use a transparent layer to put your canvas on.

Grids can help you define distance in the story. It can help you find out how long characters need to travel.

Example

I want to use a canvas that is 1500 x 2000 pixels, but I also want to set a grid onto this. Suppose every square in this grid would be 100 x 100 pixels; which means the grid could have 15 x 20 squares. I tend to set my grid outlining to 1 x 1 pixel; meaning the squares on the grid are divided by 1 pixel of black line. This requires a little math. See below.

1500 x 2000 pixels for the canvas
I want to have 15 x 20 squares
One square is 101 x 101 pixels (100 pixels + 1 pixel for the grid)

To complete our grid, we also need to take into account the most outer edges so we add 1 pixel to the eventual equation.

Our actual canvas size would have to be adjusted to;

Height; 1516 (15 x 101 + 1 for the last edges) pixels
Width; 2021 (20 x 101 + 1 for the last edges) pixels

If you want a grid that includes numbers at the top and sides, add one square into the calculations.

(Yes, world building is for smart people.)

2b. Next you need to trace the physical drawing you made. Use a drawing tool like a brush and set it to a solid circle. I tend to use a thicker outline for the world and a thinner outline for the borders of my countries. It is okay if you trace this world onto a white background. For other features however, I suggest using a transparent layer. Sometimes I put the outline of the country borders on a different layer than my world outline. But that’s up to the creator.

2c. Copy and paste your world outline onto the background of the grid canvas (in case you are using one). You can drag the picture around till you are satisfied with where it sits. Anchor it there. The outline of the world will be the basis for everything else you put overtop it, so make sure it’s at the very back of your file.

STEP 3: Landscape

Next you need to decide what the landscape looks like. You can select all white areas with the select tools so you can properly color them. It is fine if you want to color the world outline. I sometimes do that too. It can work just fine that way.

Landscape

3a. Set well distinguished colors. Blue for water, yellow for sand, red for canyon, lime for grass, green for forest and so on. If needed, you can use an extra canvas to write down what every color means so you can properly keep track of everything.

Example

Colors that I like to use

  • Blue = water
  • Light green = grass
  • Dark green = forest
  • Yellow/beige = sand
  • Red/maroon = canyon rock
  • Grey = mountain rock
  • Light grey = snow area
  • Teal (a light shade of blue) = healing water

STEP 4: Locations

So your characters have places to go, you should name places in your world. You can name regions (a forest, a mountain range), the countries and cities/towns. I suggest using a different (transparent) layer for each of these.

By placing text on a transparent layer, you can erase just that name if you want to rename a place.

Locations

4a. Regions are the easiest to name since they tend to be big chunks. You can use a font, size and color that are easy to read on the canvas colors as well as a font size that fits well on the places. I tend to pick something that is not too big so I can actually fit the names even on smaller regions.

4b. With country names, I’d go for something of a reasonable size; something that stands out but does not occupy the entire country space when placed so you can still look around the word to see the place it belongs to.

4c. For cities and such, I tend to place down dots. I pick a color I have not used before (purple or pink) to make the dots to indicate the size of the cities. The biggest dot in every country is the capital city. Medium sized dots are other cities and small dots are towns/villages. What I do with the size of the names;

  • Capital gets big letters; but smaller than the region names.
  • Cities get reasonable sizes
  • Towns/villages get small sizes

There’s usually no more than a 10-5 pixel difference between the sizes. Don’t be afraid to make things too small. If you have a large canvas, that is just fine. Remember, if you need it during writing, you can always zoom in to see what it says.

4d. If you have special locations on your map, you can draw a significant symbol (a star, a triangle, etc.) to indicate where it is and add a name to it in the same way.

You can add lines between locations to indicate roads.

STEP 5: Decide astronomy

This might not seem important but it can make a significant difference in your world. If you wish to follow the same system as the Earth follows, that is perfectly fine. I tend to change things up often.

5a. The first interesting aspect is to decide the pattern of a year. Indicate how many days the year has, how many each month has (if you have months), the lengths of weeks and also the length of seasons.

5b. Decide the heavenly bodies next. There is a likelihood that the world has a star it orbits. However some planets also have moons or even rings. These are things to consider since they can add to the atmosphere within your world. The weather is also interesting to consider.

Weather

Sometimes I add weather to maps. Use a transparent layer and color it with transparent colors to indicate where it tends to rain, where it is warmer and where snow is prominent.

Example

Here is a suggestion for the colors to use:

  • Red = high temperatures
  • Orange = heat waves
  • Yellow = often sunny
  • Green = neutral, pleasant temperatures
  • Blue = cool temperatures
  • Purple = often rains
  • Grey = often cloudy/misty
  • White = often snow

You can adjust the brightness of the colors or the amount of transparency to indicate how common this weather is. If you really want to go to such lengths, you can even make separate weather patterns for the different seasons.

STEP 6: Create physics

This step is mostly a step about imagining and potentially writing. If your story takes place in a magical world, you need to refer to the rules that are involved in this world.

Examples

Example 1: Magic power is only inherited. It can not be learned.
Example 2: People can only use as much magic as their own energy will permit.
Example 3: Magical abilities can be learned only through sacred processes.

Besides that, you need to decide what physics are at play. In most novels I read, the physics resemble those we experience on Earth. Many sci-fi novels choose to either exaggerated these physics or add to them. Traveling at the speed of light is a prime example.

It is also interesting to decide what is significant in your world. This can be special locations, special creatures or special roles that people earn or are born with. You need to decide what influence this has on your world.

An example could be a special plant that is very rare but grants certain advantages to whomever has the plant.

BRINGING LIFE

STEP 1: Create civilizations

A story can not thrive without characters. It is essential to make yourself understand what cultures exist in your world before you attempt to persuade readers of the awesomeness of your world.

1a. Start by outlining which countries or regions exist and if there are people that live there. Describe if there are many people and what race they are. You can add that they speak their own language or have a particular religion.

1b. What really makes societies unique is their customs. For each community, make a brief description of what are important ceremonies or holidays to them. Write about how relationships are handled within the community. Mention small gestures that are native to the community (greetings, expressions of respect, expressions of love, etc.).

1c. Establishing connections between communities and countries is important. It can often influence the plot heavily. Describe how each is governed and what their view of other countries is.

The level of detail you decide to use is completely up to you however a basic understanding of the local cultures will help you remember them and integrate them.

STEP 2: Create wildlife

It would make sense that beyond city walls, there are other living creatures that inhabit the wild. As miniscule a role as they might play in your story, it is still interesting to establish what animals and plants exist.

2a. Describe what (types of) animals inhabit the world. What creatures live where? Are they friendly to the people? Are the intelligent? What role do they play, if any? Perhaps the only role that you desire is birds that can be written about as singing their songs in the morning. That is fine.

2b. Integrate plants into your story. If you are not eager to make up your own plants, then resume as you wish. It might be interesting to understand what lives where. This requires some research. If that is not your cup of tea, then attempt to create your own.

Example

Below is an example of three significant plants growing in one kingdom.

The kingdom is known for several medicinal herbs that are native to it. One is a small red flower (Aniya flower) used to lessen headaches. It is a small plant that grows on the trunks of trees and is thusly found in the forests to the east.

The other is a plant with feather shaped leaves (Dragon Pigmy) that are quite long and thin. The leaves hang outwards and get smaller as they reach the top of the plant. Because the leaves are so long and heavy, the stem of the plant is quite sturdy. It grows in moist areas. It is commonly found in swamp-like locations near the southern shore of Sandöhr. Both the leaves and the root of the Dragon Pigmy plant are used in combination with other herbs to form medicinal healing powders used for speeding up the healing of wounds. It is also commonly used to cure nausea or internal pain. The root of the plant is often cooked and consumed by people due to its healthy factors. Its leaves are used in salads. They are high in iron. The seeds of this plant are hard but are often used to brew tea because the outer core of the seed will dissolve in boiling water. The Dragon Pigmy earned its name due to the leaves of this plant closely resembling the wings of some species of Pigmy dragons.

Besides the Aniya and the Dragon Pigmy, the kingdom is famous for its tropical fruit. This fruit, called a Learan, grows on a fairly short tree in the far south of the kingdom. The Learan tree has a short trunk. This tree grows in a spire-like fashion; the base of it is very wide while the apex is narrow. This causes the tree to look like an enormous thorn. Such an exterior is emphasized by a lack of branches. The tree trunk is covered with round leaves that grow upwards along the tree trunk and seem to cover the tree in scales. The fruit that this tree grows is hidden among its coat of round leaves. The fruit has a cone-shape with a rounded base. The fruit grows taller and longer as it ripens and grows towards the sun. The fruit, at its earliest stages, is a green color equal to the color of the tree’s leaves. At this stage, the fruit is poisonous and the acid from it could cause tissue damage in the body. As the fruit ripens, its color transitions to blue before turning violet. When the fruit has turned blue, the poisonous fluids within have been transformed into sugars. Fruits from this tree are harvested during summer. They are picked when they are a shade of indigo. Learan fruit tastes rather sweet. Its outer core is a thick layer of flexible skin. Within this layer lays soft matter and a lot of liquid. This fruit is high in vitamins and is often used to create fruit juices or wine. In some instances, the fruit is converted into a paste-like substance to be eaten on bread. This fruit is popular even among young children due to the sweetness of it. Besides the fruit this tree provides, the Learan tree is often harvested for its sturdy wood. Learan wood has the benefit of being flexible and resistant to moisture. However, due to the rarity of these trees (they only grow in the south of Sandöhr) the expenses paid for a stack of wood are high.


STEP 3: Describe locations

Many locations become more interesting if you think about how they look or are organized. This makes describing them later on more fun too. It will also hold a stronger identity.

5a. Sketch or describe the way major cities are structured. Consider if the city has walls and if so what they are made of. If there is a castle or fortress, decide the characters for this as well. Decide if the streets are wide or narrow, if roofs are straw or wood. Decide if the roads are paved or if it is simply covered in sand. Perhaps there are cathedrals, academies, libraries or other noteworthy locations. Choose a location in the city for them and give them their own personal exterior.

It can be difficult to decide different identities for everything but this will make it more distinguished and intriguing to have characters visit them. They will have certain touches that set them apart. If you write about their exterior, it will also become easier to visualize them and thus write about them.

STEP 4: Final touches

Though the world is fairly complete now, it remains to be said that many writers like to add specific touches to their world. This is the point at which you can add all the unique aspects that you deem important. Something that I am prone to doing is noting certain aspects about certain areas. An example is that a road in one of my stories was made of a very interesting material. These are things I will record.

Good luck on your world building. 

May destiny be kind to you.

Ettalin; “May Destiny Be Kind To You”

My bucket list mentions several writing projects. One of them is what I have thus far dubbed the Primary Trilogy; a collection of books based on blue, red and yellow, respectively. The reason for these colors is three dragons who play a main role. Their scales have those colors, I’m sure you could guess that.

Though I am willing to tell the plot of the Primary Trilogy as soon as I’m done plotting, I can not do that yet. It is still in progress. It is a slow but that nonetheless. Meanwhile, I have been working on something related to it (in what little time I have). I have been working on something called Ettalin.

I’m sure your first thought is, “What the heck is Ettalin?” Well, dear reader, I will explain that!

Ettalin is the language used in the Primary Trilogy by the dragon race. They were the creators of the language and gifted it to other races of the land. Since dragons are the closest link to magic, it is also the tongue of magicians.

Creating a whole new language is hard work. You need to come up with rules for grammar (or use native ones but I’m choosing not to). I have a lengthy document with words and phrases of importance. There are also small paragraphs to explain how sentences need to be constructed. There are also certain ways to greet other individuals that I’ve elaborated. The oldest children are called differently than the younger ones. It’s pretty complex.

Of course, there will be a lot of things missing from the language. I don’t need a complete language since I will only be using the language in small portions. When writing spells or small portions of conversations, I will use it. I can also use it when the characters are learning about the world and magic. I can title certain factions or locations accordingly but that is about the extent of language I need.

It’s a fun endeavor. I am even changing numbers. Instead of going by 10’s, I am going by 8’s. I drew eight shapes to match the numbers, too. There is a ton of information about seasons too. There are colors and gemstones, animals and weather.

There is a ton of information and it is almost impossible to keep everything organized. I’ve been considering using Scrivener for it. It would definitely help keep things organized. If anyone would like to donate a subscription, that would be wonderful. Joking, of course.

While typing this post, I wanted to come up with a nice way to end it. I spent a while skimming through my document to find out how I would translate the sentence in my mind while still using the right grammar rules. The sentence is as follows:

“Lez kwanye yull penga’nt amirl ai fayamay’nt am Vinn.”

Now, I know that looks like a bunch of jumbled letters to everyone. So in an attempt to teach a bit of Ettalin to my readers, I will explain how I came up with it.

The sentence states that I am wishing a pleasant destiny to you forever. The sentence literally translates to the following:

“I wishing if destiny’s kindness in forever with you.”

The sentence suggests something that is not necessarily true. Reality can be different. When you say, “That ball is blue.” you are describing a ball. There is certainty. You can look at the ball and know if it is blue. It is not the case with this sentence.

When suggesting something, a wish in this case, you use ‘kwanye yull’ after stating who wishes it. If you yourself wish it, you say ‘lez’ (“I”). If it is a general wish with no one stating it, you do not mention anyone.

‘Penga’nt’ is a contraction of ‘penga int’ which translates to ‘destiny’s’ or ‘of destiny’. ‘Amirl’ is the word for kindness and peace; a harmony. It is a sensation without a clear translation. In the way it is used here, it means ‘destiny’s kindness’.

‘Ai fayamay’nt’ is literally ‘in forever’s’. Here too you see the contraction with the word ‘int’, meaning that what comes next belongs to the word before it. ‘Fayamay’ is something endless and eternal. So if something belongs to it, that something would also be endless. Though you’d expect that something would come after ‘fayamay’nt’, I have decided that that contraction by itself is simply the way ‘forever’ is said; in regards with the rest of the explanation here.

Finally we have ‘am Vinn’. This is literally ‘with you’. There are two ways to spell ‘you’. One is formal and the other is informal. Because I do not know my readers, I have chosen to use the formal version that is ‘Vinn’. The informal version would be ‘vin’; one less letter and no capital.

So, that has been a brief lesson on Ettalin. Don’t worry, I won’t be quizzing you on it.

Anyway; till next time and lez kwanye yull penga’nt amirl ai fayamay’nt am Vinn!