Building a World? This May Help!

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I’ve been at work on the Ungifted series since early 2018. In that time Sneakthief has gone through four drafts (I’m on the fifth) and I have three drafts of Turncoat and lots of ideas for the next two books. But one thing I’d never done was organize all my thoughts about the world. I’d never really built it.

In a sense, I felt like I was discovering a lot as I went, which is kind of the hallmark of a pantser, and I make no secret that I’m a pantser to the highest degree. That worked for general plot, and for the characters, as I got to know them, but didn’t work so well for actually building my world and making it a unique place. The problem I found was that I couldn’t settle on an organizational system.

I have friends who swear by Scrivener. I tried Scriv, and its free counterpart Y Writer, when I was using a primarily Windows-based PC laptop. I just couldn’t seem to figure it out, or make it work for me the way I needed it to. I have friends to use Excel or Google Sheets (and my husband swears by Excel. You could say he excels at it. I’ll see myself out). I got a small binder with dividers and pages, and tried organizing it that way. Helpful, but still not what I needed. Maybe I’d just keep it all in my head and hope for the best.

I was fortunate to receive some amazing beta feedback that told me exactly what I needed to hear, and why it was important to not try to keep track of it all in my head. Around the same time I was fortunate to be getting Facebook ads for Scribe Forge’s Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook.

The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook was exactly what I needed to answer the questions my beta reader had posed and the advice they’d given me. The first section of the book discusses the different elements of worlds and worldbuilding, and things that must be considered when doing so. It’s structured to work for most speculative genres, including high fantasy, sci-fi, and urban fantasy. It covers everything from how to develop a planet, down to the legal systems of your world. And the best part is, you can pick and choose what works for you. What do you need to develop?

This is where part two comes in: an extensive collection of worksheets that ask the questions I didn’t even consider, or thought might have obvious answers, but didn’t. Again, you can use the worksheets that you need for your particular project. I spent quite a bit of time going through the worksheet section and filling in the gaps of my world, down to means of production, travel, and trade. And again, the aim of the worksheets isn’t for you to complete everything, but to do what you need for your project.

“But Jay, if you did the worksheets, aren’t you going to have to buy a whole other book when your next project comes up?”

Scribe Forge offers the hard copy book, or digital download, or a combo of the two. In this way you have the ability to work with fresh worksheets for new projects. I personally need to physically write stuff out, and I don’t have printer capabilities right now, so having the book was really helpful. But, I have the digital copy in case I want to find a way to print up fresh sheets. I’m a fan of options, and I’m glad that Scribe Forge had them! Additionally, there was a disclaimer that it could take up to 4-6 weeks to ship, however I think I had my hard copy in a week and a half or so. The digital piece was ready at the time of purchase, however, which was great!

Overall, for me, building my world required having the right tools, and it took me some time to figure out what that meant. In the end, it took Scribe Forge’s product to help me organize the information my beta reader recommended I include. It may not be for everyone, but if you’ve been working on worldbuilding and struggling with where to start, or finding a system to organize your thoughts or even force you to dig deeper into your world, I’d recommend this.

This post is not sponsored by Scribe Forge in any way; I have just really enjoyed using their product and felt it to be extremely helpful, and want to pass on why it’s worked for me.

Academia: or, My Favorite Trope

I feel like everyone has a thing that draws them into a book. Some people really enjoy the found family trope, or a particular character. Recently author Yolandie Horak wrote a great post about her favorite trope, the Lovable Rogue. Lately I’ve been reading a duology, and between that, and my own work, have come to realize that my trope? My thing? is Academia.

I’ve always been an academic to a degree. I love reading; I love the smell of books, and I love getting lost in a library. And when I stop to think about it, a lot of the books I love are set in schools or at libraries; they incorporate books and academia as a major part of the story and the world. When I sort myself into a Hogwarts house, I come up Ravenclaw more often than not. I love when fantasy books incorporate a library into their world, and when a game has an academic setting I can explore.

There are two games I played relatively recently that incorporate the trope of the lost library: Thief and Dragon Age: Inquisition (both 2014). Thief has a level that is a ruined library (that is almost ruined by a very frustrating puzzle, but that’s more gameplay mechanics than anything else). The game overall is very gloomy, but this gloom works well for this level, and the idea of seeking out long-lost knowledge. Strange things haunt the corners; staircases move; paths change. Which way is up anymore? It makes the idea of getting ‘lost in a book’ a reality.

In Inquisition the Shattered Library is lost beyond time and space, accessible only by the mysterious Eluvians. Spirits of Knowledge and Study, the Archivists, linger, preserving the last words of those who remained in the Vir Dirthara. Books remain, but will shock those who try to take them from the shelves, as if protecting themselves. The Librarians, once caretakers, are transformed into violent guardians. At one point, Dorian Pavus (more on him at a later date) says, “Look at this place! Now that we have so many samples, how hard would it be to build Eluvians of our own?” Even after he’s dissuaded by a very deadpan Iron Bull, he explains that he’d like to make something magical that is also helpful; most of the magical objects they’ve dealt with over the last few years have been tools of destruction, and Dorian, ever the scholar, wants to use this new research for something good.

A Wizard and a Scholar

Recently I finished Ginn Hale’s Lord of the White Hell Book 1; I will do a proper review eventually! I liked the characters and the plot, but I realized what I really enjoyed most of all was it being set at a school. I liked the discussions of classes and homework assignments, and students studying and complaining about professors. I liked the kind Scholars and the gruff weapons Master. I’m reading the second book right now, and I am enjoying it: the plot continues to deepen, and I grow even fonder of the characters. I’m about halfway through, and I actually really miss the school setting! This isn’t a failure of Hale’s by any means; but it’s made me realize that yes, academia is really my favored trope.When I first read the Harry Potter series I loved the magical world that Rowling created, but it was the descriptions of the school: the library with its forbidden section, the classes students took and the tools of their trade. Maybe I was even a tad disappointed when the final book didn’t (understandably) focus on the schooling…

I think, to a degree, one of the reasons I enjoy Tokien’s work as much as I do is that he was first and foremost a scholar. I love seeing that side of him reflected in Gandalf, particularly in that scene in the Minas Tirith library in Fellowship of the Ring, and I love that Gandalf’s initial reaction is to run off to Gondor to do some serious research. And maybe to an extent, this is part of what I centered in on in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. I saw a lot of myself in Cath with the fanfiction writing and all, but most of the novel was set on a college campus, navigating roommates, classmates, professors, and assignments. And of course there’s The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss, two thirds of which are set at the University, centered around a precocious (if slightly wise-assed) first person narrator. I love it.

This is in no way an exhaustive list, but given that the University and its library, and the quest for lost knowledge, play a huge role in my current project, I think it’s safe to say that academia is my “thing”. Is there a “thing” you gravitate toward in your reading habits and/or writing? Share in the comments!

Review: The Firebird

The Firebird

The Firebird by Nerine Dorman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When it comes to worldbuilding original fantasy, it often takes a sprawling narrative covering a few hundred pages and usually multiple volumes for the world to come alive. The Firebird is able to convey a fully realized fantasy world in the span of a novella. Much of that is owed to the author’s tightly controlled prose and heavy reliance on grounding the reader in the setting. The use of first person narration helps with this, as Lada, the narrator, shares her experiences and feelings within the setting in a way that feels organic and natural, and not at all contrived or bordering on monotonous telling. The setting provides a perfect stage for character and theme to shine. Good, evil, betrayal, and forgiveness are at the center of this story, and the emotions are immediate and raw. The plot is deceptively simple, because the complexity of character and emotion are truly the focus of this book.

This was a quick read, but not at all disappointing–the precision storytelling makes this not only a study in the craft, but also packs a powerful punch.



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