June Recap

It’s strange how things come and go in waves. Some months are busy and stressful and I get next to nothing written, barely meeting word count goals, struggling to find the inspiration to make the stories work and some months, while busy, are blessed with hours of racing to get the words down on the page at the same rate they’re going through my head.

On the personal front, June marks the end of the school year, but also the start of a new endeavor, one that thankfully doesn’t add too much to my already full plate. I’ve transferred branches within my Taekwondo Academy so I can take on the role of Assistant Instructor. My new ‘home’ is a small but growing group, a little rowdy perhaps, but fun.

The kiddos wrapped up school this year with a bang. My 7-year-old daughter did a Taekwondo pattern for her talent show and even broke a board in front of the whole school. My nine-year-old son’s class wrote books (they were 5-12 pages), many choosing to write comics or graphic novels, and did a book reading for the parents. Visitors could go around the room, from author to author, to hear the stories and ask questions. We had snacks and drinks, which is a necessity at any book launch event. My son is a perfectionist (not surprising since I’m more a ‘basher’ than a ‘swooper’) and wound up having to work on his book at home – a lot. The stress of meeting the deadline was hard on him but the finished product was worth it.

He did a comic in his sketchbook for fun, one about Supa Baby. It is heavily inspired by the fast-paced, silliness of Dogman. His comedic timing is shining through. I’ll be drawing up good copy frames for him so he can do up a clean version, and I hope to upload a sample page here, and to my Patreon.

This month hasn’t been all joy, I’m afraid. Early in June, a family friend lost her fight with cancer, and a few weeks later, one of my local author friends had a second stroke and did not bounce back. The older you get, the more funerals there are to attend, but it doesn’t get easier.

My husband and I are up to our eyeballs in this garage we’re building. We were lucky to get the cement pad poured before the rains started (the rains messed us up last summer, we couldn’t get the gravel to dry enough to pack it properly). We’ve got the frame and plywood up (walls and roof) so it’s time to get it okayed by the inspector again, then on to the siding.

As for writing, I finished the novella Cheyanne and the short story Fifty-Fifty which finishes out The Underground series. I finished Whispers in the Dark (Book 1 of the Chronicles of Zoedar series) and sent that off to the beta reader. I’m just over halfway done Darkness Falling (Book 2 in the Chronicles of Zoedar series). Book 2 is largely a rewrite so that has helped boost my word count numbers this month – a good thing, since the kids are out of school and will be underfoot for the next 8 weeks.

  • Cheyanne + Fifty-Fifty – complete at 25,000 words. They’ve been to the editor and come back. In July I need to do the edits and get the e-book pre-order set up.
  • Sunlight – complete back in the spring. Since I have to sit down and do the edits on Cheyanne, I’ll sit down and do the edits here too. e-book pre-order will be set up, as well as the pre-order for Turncoats.
  • Whispers in the Dark – I won’t get this back from the beta reader until August, most likely. We set end of August as the deadline, because summer vacation and all that, but we’ll see if I get lucky and get it back earlier.
  • Darkness Falling – over 60k written. I’m aiming for 90-120k finished so mid-to-late-July at this rate.
  • June’s total word count: 100,033 (A RECORD!!)
  • 2019 word count so far: 335,794 (184,000 words to go)
  • Chronicles of Zoedar: this is a 4-book series, with books 3 and 4 targeted at 100k, give or take 10k. I’m hoping to have book 1 done and polished in time for #pitmad this fall, with the others completed in quick succession (all first drafts done by the end of 2019). You can read more about this series here

And, we are now halfway through the year! I’m quite a bit past halfway on my word count goals but at this point, I don’t think I’d increase it for next year. Having old drafts of Zoedar kicking about, and Rose at the End exploding past its estimated word count helped boost my speed and productivity this year. Next year will be all new projects, and possibly a lot of marketing – we’ll see what happens!

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Race to the Bottom

Race to the Bottom is a phrase that is most often associated with rapidly decreasing prices or quality controls within an industry. As it applies to write, it can refer to book prices, book quality, and burn out.

 

“If it’s not free it costs too much.” With the advent of e-books, followed closely by independent publishing platforms, we’ve seen a steady drop in e-book prices. A lot of readers won’t pick up an ebook by a new or unknown author for more than $2.99.

The way I see it, a book’s price should reflect its length more than anything else. 99 cents is great for a novella or for an introductory offer (say, the first book in a series).

$2.99 is minimum for a full-length YA or adult novel (so, 250 6×9 pages if it was a paperback). For writers, this is roughly 65,000 words. $4.99 is still decent for this length. I often pay five and six dollars for an ebook without batting an eye. It’s still half the price or less than the paperback.

$9.99 is about the most I will pay for an e-book unless it’s a monster (400+ pages, dense text).

Really, you should charge no more than 50% of your paperback price for your ebook. Yes, you have editing costs and cover design costs, but that 50% mark puts prices at a reasonable place for both writers and readers.

Sadly, a lot of readers look at $4.99 on an ebook by an indie author and balk.  They email authors and ask when the book will be available for free giveaway. They go to places like Quora and ask for links to free books. (And users on Quora are happy to provide links to pdfs of popular books for free. And Quora doesn’t care one bit that its platform is being used to pirate books.)

This leaves writers in a bind. How do we compete? I don’t have a well-known name like Stephen King or JK Rowling. I don’t have a publisher’s stamp of approval, or a publisher’s distribution network, or a publisher’s marketing budget. A lot of indie authors look at this situation and think, “The only way I can compete is to be cheaper, more readily accessible to the reader,” and that’s sound logic – if consumerism worked that way.

I understand where readers are coming from – poorly edited indie books, indie books with bad plots, book stuffers, it all leaves a bad taste in the reader’s mouth. They don’t want to spend their money on a product that may or may not be satisfactory, in production value or entertainment value. Short of adding “this book has seen 5 rounds of copy edits” to the description, what can the writer do to prove to readers their book is worth taking a chance on?

There are no easy answers. Contrary to what a lot of book coaches and marketing gurus will tell you, there is no fast track, no one-size-fits-all solution, no magic wand or magic hashtag. I do have a few ideas, but they’re slow, they require a lot of people to get on board, and they smell an awful lot like work and waiting.

  1. Value yourself, your work, and your brand. That means taking pride in how you present yourself to potential readers (a clean, easy to use website or blog, well-produced covers, good response time to comments and queries), but it also means setting your prices at an appropriate place (high enough to say ‘I have value’ but low enough that the reader doesn’t feel ripped off).
  2. Produce quality work. Get a beta reader or three. Get an editor, a paid professional. Take the time to polish your work instead of rushing to publish. The only way we can change the reader’s mind about the quality of indie work is to change the quality of indie work – let’s make the crappy stuff the minority. Make sure your interior formatting, be it for paperback or ebook, is professional and to industry standards.
  3. Review everything you read. Even if you just leave a star rating, it helps. And this goes for readers and writers both. If something is good, review it. Put in your review “this book was clean of technical errors” or “the editing was really good too” so other readers know they’re not wasting their money on garbage. And if you find a book with a lot of errors, here’s the polite way to write that in a low-star review: “I feel this book could benefit from further edits” or “It feels like the author rushed to release this book and did not take the time to make it the best it could be”. Again, this alerts future readers to poor quality products. Indie authors don’t answer to the traditional gatekeepers, so we need new gatekeepers, and reviews is one way to provide that. Keep your comments polite, to the point, and professional.
  4. Be a mentor and an advocate. If you are a member of a writer group or two, or if new writers seek you out for advice, emphasize how important the editing is. Let’s teach this to every up-and-coming hopeful author – HIRE AN EDITOR. There is no skipping this step, there can be no cutting corners here. Also, stress the need for professional covers. This goes with point 1. Let’s teach new writers to have pride in their work and their brand.
  5. Be respectful of costs. Editing and cover art cost money if you want the job done right. Just as we want readers to pay fair prices for our finished books, so too must we be willing to pay a fair price to the people who work for us – editors and artists. Familiarize yourself with the Editorial Freelance Association rates and respect people who follow these rates in their pricing. Share information on professional artists and editors instead of advising people to visit fiverr and other such sites (because these are causing a similar race to the bottom in editing and art that is frustrating our fellow creators and freelancers).
  6. If you edit or ghostwrite – charge fair prices. Value your work, don’t undercut other freelancers, and demand a fair wage for what you do. As a ghostwriter, I was making less than a penny a word and I was still being undercut.

This is an uphill battle for all of us on all sides of this. The economy isn’t great. Everyone with a love for books thinks they can be an editor and everyone with photoshop thinks they can make covers and that floods the market with cheap options that undercut professionals and make it easy to resent people who want to make a living doing what they are trained to do. If we stick together, work with professionals who value themselves and us, and refuse to cave to the “free or cheap” consumer mentality, maybe, just maybe, we can salvage the indie e-book industry before we’re all reduced to monkeys at typewriters.

Breaking News & Important Updates

I know this is mid-month and I generally update at the end of each month, but this post isn’t about balancing writing and life, or word count goals, or project milestones. These are the big important updates about Patreon, release dates for The Underground books, and some updates on the new project.

PATREON

When I put Schreyer Ink on hiatus, I shut down the Patreon page. I didn’t feel it was right to charge people a monthly fee for a page that wasn’t producing the promised content. I have a new Patreon page set up under my own name, and things will be a little different this time. I am charging “per creation” instead of “monthly. What does this mean for you?

If you choose to support my creative endeavors through Patreon (and thank you if you do), you’ll be charged whatever you choose to commit each time I post exclusive content. I’ve decided not to post more than 2 exclusive posts per month so if you pledge $1/post the most you’ll ever spend in a month is $2. There will be some months with only 1 post and some months with none, but I’ll try not to go over 2 to keep costs reasonable for everyone.

Second thing, EVERYTHING I post on Patreon will be available to ALL Patrons regardless of pledge amount – $1 or $10 or $100, you’ll all see the same thing.

When you get there, you’ll find 6 exclusive posts waiting for you. (All Patrons can view ALL past exclusive posts as soon as they sign up to support the page for no extra charge) This is the only time I’ll be posting more than 2 posts in a month and it’s just to give everyone something to check out while they wait.

What’s going up? The new covers for The Underground books 6-8 and an excerpt from each book.

THE UNDERGROUND

In May I completed book 5 of The Rose Garden series, completing the series, the story, everything. It felt really good, but my work isn’t over yet. I have to finish the Underground Series too. As of June 11, Book 6 is done, Book 7 just needs the edits done, and Book 8 is over half written. Covers for 6 and 7 are done, cover for 8 is being done this week.

So, when will they be available?

I have 1 final show/event at the end of June. I suppose IF I worked like a madwoman and got Book 6 approved for print today and rushed the shipping I could have them here on time. I don’t have time to do that. I’m taking the summer off from most events to help my husband build our new garage.

Shows pick up again late in October so the plan is to have ALL THREE books done, edited, proofed, formatted, printed, and here by the end of August. MAYBE I will have a launch event at the Jake Epp Library, maybe I will do something with a few of the schools in September. Not sure yet. But the COMPLETE series will be available for the Christmas sale season. And here are the official titles:

Book 6: Turncoats

Book 7: Sunlight

Book 8: BONUS NOVELLA: Cheyanne (includes the short story Fifty-Fifty)

FUTURE PROJECTS

With both series wrapped up, what comes next? Andy and I are working on redoing the picture books and rereleasing them, but that’s mostly on him. I’m in talks with another artist to do the Underground Graphic Novels – we’ll probably get a start in the fall.

As for writing, I’m already working on a new series in a new world with new characters and plots and magic and intrigue. My plan is to have book 1 completely ready by the time Pitmad rolls around this fall/winter. I’d like to take this new project the traditional route, just to see if I can. I have a few places lined up for it and I’m feeling pretty excited about it.

If you’d like to see a bit of what I’m working on, you can hop over to the official page for that new world here. You can follow the Thelara blog for world-building posts as well as summaries and previews.

May Recap

May was not the easiest of months, that’s for sure. I pushed hard in April for Camp Nano, and after a push there’s always a lull as I fight through the exhaustion. I managed to start May with a steady pace but life got in the way.

I spent a week helping my husband with the foundation for our new garage but now the pad is poured and we can move at a more reasonable pace.

We also had the stomach flu go through the house, which meant one day dedicated to each kid, and one day spent in bed while I had it.

And, the quilt shop in Steinbach had to close their Main Street location which meant shutting down the book nook. As the liaison between the shop and the group that meant a few extra stops at the shop (no big deal, I love going to visit, but it was extra time spent) to organize the take down of the nook, contacting all the authors, retrieving abandoned books at the end of the month, picking up all the display material, etc. I’m more upset to see the space go than I am at having to do a bit of work. Driven 2 Sew was a huge supporter of local artists, writers, and crafters.

On the plus side, May was the book/series launch for The Rose Garden, and Keycon was this month. Both were amazing experiences.

The book launch was held on May 7th at the Jake Epp Library in Steinbach. Maddison did a beautiful job on the room and we had tea, punch, and dainties. I read from the books and talked about the writing of the series and answered questions. My biggest fear was not realized and the room was comfortably full.

Keycon is an annual sci-fi/fantasy convention here in Winnipeg. With Authors of Manitoba I have a table in the merchant room and I did two panels – one with Tanya Huff. Yes, I got her autograph, yes I’m still giddy about that. But, that was three full days of excitement and people and no writing.

Last big change, I’ve switched branches for Tae Kwon Do (not academies, I’m still with Spirit 1) so that I can assist the 3rd Dan Black Belt at this other branch with the instructing. Not only will I continue to learn but now I have the chance to teach.

I want to give a second shout out to Jake Epp Library as well because they hosted a local actor/director who organized a dramatic abridged reading of The Crucible by Arthur Miller. The cast was wonderful, and it was fun to sit and listen to them read. It was like a radio play, but you got to see facial expressions. I’m looking forward to more of these events in the future.

Some stats for May:

  • May was a single-project month, with only Whispers in the Dark seeing new words
  • I wrote just over 30k this month
  • My total for the year, so far, is nearing 240k (260k will be halfway to my goal)
  • I had two days top 3000 words, but I had a lot of days with no words

 

What’s coming up? June 1 is a colour belt test. I’m just going as a black belt to show support. No test for me until April 2020. June 2 is the St Vital Pop Up Market at the St Vital Mustang’s building (200 Frobisher off St Mary’s) from 10-3. June 8 is the Steampunk convention and Grinder’s Market (Crescent Fort Rouge United Church – free public access to the market from 9-12, paid convention access 12-4). June 15 is the first Tae Kwon Do BBQ and Training in the Park. June 23rd is the Anola Family Fun Days event at the Anola Community Center (free access all day, demos from local groups, local crafters, bouncers, petting zoo …).

And, I will tell you all about it, and what the writing looks like, when we get to the end of June.

Call Me Old-Fashioned

I grew up without internet. I know it doesn’t look like it, I don’t look my age, and young people don’t realize how recent easily accessible internet is. But that’s the truth. We had internet in the house when I was in grade 8, maybe. I didn’t have access to a “kid-friendly” chat room program until high school (it was MSN messenger). My first social media platform was MySpace.

All of this means that I also learned the basics of the craft of writing without the internet. I mean, I also learned it without access to a computer because we didn’t really have access to a computer with a decent word processor until I was in late middle school too. And I started young.

Look, I love online writing groups and all, but the more I read posts there, the more I feel like the internet has made people forget how to get good at things. Like, you just put words on the page and they suck and you do it again and again and again until they stop sucking. That’s literally the WHOLE process. There is no one book or course or grammar program that is going to make you GOOD or BETTER. It’s just practice.

Yes, there are books and courses out there. I’ve read dozens of books on the art of writing – I got them from my public library for free and took them out more than once, or I grabbed them from used book sales for fifty cents a piece. I also took a creative writing course in university and the only real thing I learned there was how to teach creative writing – a great thing to learn because I now teach workshops and do panels, but I didn’t need the class to make my writing better.

I think the internet culture, the culture of answers at our fingertips and a network of knowledge, and everything shipped to your door at the press of a button is making people lazy. I love the internet. I love blogging, I love having friends around the world who I will likely never meet in person but whom I adore, I love sharing photos with family halfway across the country with the push of a button, I love being able to look up answers without driving 30minutes to the nearest library for everything. I don’t like how people are starting to look for magic button answers to things that take time, dedication, and practice.

Please, go out there and create. Suck at it for years. Put in the effort and the practice. Get frustrated and quit. Regret quitting and come back. Get laughed at. Do it again. And again. Frame your rejection letters or burn them or ignore them or whatever you want – they don’t define you. Please, do this the long way, the hard way, because in the end, it’s worth every painful minute, every lame word, every laughably bad story.

I know I wrote a whole article on writing crap, but please, be a little old fashioned when it comes to writing, or art, or dance, or whatever it is you are creating – practice, practice, practice, and stop coming to social media looking for handouts.

Chapter Length

One of the frequently asked questions over on the writers’ group I belong to is some variation of “how long should my chapters be?” The short answer is “It depends on the book”, but this isn’t the place for short answers, so let’s explore chapters.

A chapter is a natural break in the story and should always occur between scenes. It indicates a change in characters, a change in point of view, a change in setting, or a passage of time. Somewhere in the first half page of a new chapter, there should be some indication of where you are, how much time has elapsed since the last chapter ended, and who is present. The ending should be the end of a conversation, a person leaving, or an event wrapping up. It can end with a reveal, a question, or a tone/mood.

So how long?

In my Underground Series, I aimed for 2000 words per chapter. This was a Middle Grade (grades 4-8) science fiction series and each book in the series was 20-30k total length. 2000 words per chapter, give or take, plus a prologue and epilogue in each book, gave me roughly 9-10 chapters.

When I was ghostwriting 50k erotic romance I aimed for 4000 words per chapter, or roughly 12 chapters. This allowed me to follow a common pacing framework within the stories.

Now, I’m working on an epic fantasy. I’ve got no clue how long it will be, but the outline fits nicely into 20 chapters. These chapters are ranging between 3500 words and 5800 words, give or take. I figure as long as none are over 6000 or under 3000 and all break at natural places, they’ll feel fairly uniform.

In all of these examples the length of the chapter changes in relation to the total word count of the book – a bigger book has both more chapters and longer chapters. But chapters don’t have to be uniform.

In the Rose Garden Series, I didn’t use traditional chapters. Instead of Chapter 1, Chapter 2 … each chapter starts with the date of the scenes taking place. Each chapter is one day. Some chapters start with a time-lapse recap if there is a gap of several days between chapters, but otherwise, one chapter is one day. So, some chapters were 4000+ words and some chapters were 250 words.

So, what’s right?

There is no hard and fast rule, but something to keep in mind about chapters is that they are put into books, not only to signify the changes I mentioned earlier but to give the reader a place to put in a bookmark and take a break. It’s a breather. Even if it’s just long enough to refill your tea and come back. If the chapters are too long, the reader may feel that the book is dragging (“When is this chapter going to end?”) but if the chapters are too short it can make the story feel broken and choppy, like too many interruptions at dinner.

Let’s sum this up into a few simple guidelines:

  • A chapter should end at the end of a scene.
  • A chapter should be as long as it needs to be to complete the scene, or related series of scenes, in a satisfactory way.
  • Longer books generally have more chapters and longer chapters than shorter books.
  • Chapters should be long enough to give the reader something to enjoy but short enough that they can take a breather.
  • Chapters do not have to be uniform in length so long as the follow points 1 and 2.

 

Now, what about chapters within chapters?

Off the top of my head, the first example I have of this, are the Black Jewel novels by Anne Bishop. The first book starts with “PART 1”. The next page says:

Chapter One

1 / Terreille

Now, Terreille is a realm in her world and chapter one happens to have three of these segments, each in a different place from the one before it. So, she has 3 books. Book 1 has 3 parts, each part has multiple chapters, each chapter has multiple sections. Sections start as soon as another ends (on the page – there are no page breaks), chapters start on new pages but no spacer pages in between (so they can start on either the left of the right) and Parts get a new page on the right with no other text on them.

Confused? It’s harder to explain than it is to follow when you’re reading. It works for her. It allows her to navigate a multi-planed world with several distinct settings without wasting a lot of time or words setting up each scene with needless description or exposition. Her method is not common and if you find it intimidating, or confusing, don’t use it.

I’m telling you about it because you can do it if you choose to. You can have Parts and Chapters. You can have Chapters and numbered sections. You can have all three. You can have just chapters. You can name your chapters “Chapter One, Chapter Two …” or use “Section” or “Part” instead of “Chapter” or you can name the chapters with words (I believe A Series of Unfortunate Events does this)

When do you decide?

For some writers, it works best to use no chapter breaks at all in the first draft. Just write. Once the draft is done and you’ve reordered the scenes to make a cohesive story, then you find the chapter breaks.

For some writers, they do it as they go along, putting in a chapter break where scene breaks allow or where it feels right.

For some writers, they do so much outlining, and have a decently clear idea of how long certain scenes will be and how they fit together, that they can break their outlines into rough chapters. This is me, though I’m often off by a chapter or two as scenes will run away with me or I’ll realize I need extra scenes somewhere (Whispers in the Dark started off at 18 chapters and now it’s 20, for example). This method isn’t better than either of the others.

The method you use depends on your writing style as much or more than it does on your level of experience. To be fair, I used the second method for years and only started doing the “chapters in the outline” method recently (I wrote crap for 15 years before getting published).

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, or you think there’s another point about chapters I should address here, or if you have suggestions for future articles, drop me a comment!

 

World Building 5 – Religion and Politics

As I said in previous posts, culture is a messy, complicated thing. There is no real linear way to go about creating a new culture for your book, but I’m going to try to break it down for you.

In my last post I talked about how the physical appearance of your species/group and their geographic location play into their culture. Now, we’re going to look at religion and politics.

I start by choosing a basic political structure for my group. Monarchy, theocracy, democracy, republic, oligarchy, or anarchy … those are the basic choices. There’s also the question of patriarchy vs matriarchy vs egalitarian. A patriarchy is a society that has male-based inheritance laws, men hold the majority of power positions and make the big decisions, and generally has a male-based naming structure (you inherit your family name from your father or husband). A matriarchy is the reverse – female-based inheritance and naming, women in positions of respect and power. An egalitarian society is one that does not favour one gender over the other.

Once I have that, I choose a style of religion – monotheistic or polytheistic. Then I build on it – what sort of holy scripture do they have? How much oral tradition do they have? Deity names and genders have to be selected. How does the gender of the deity affect the political structure? How ritualized is the religion? What symbols do they have? What things or days or people do they hold sacred? What sorts of religious laws do they have? How do the religious and political laws reflect or conflict each other?

Let’s jump back into the Thelaran Fairies we were talking about last post.

Fairies have a monarchy. Due to the rapid nature of their aging, sometimes the crown skips a generation – otherwise they can end up passing on the crown every few years and that’s hard on the population and their relations with their Human neighbours.

Fairies worship Olina, a female deity. Olina is known for her joy, reflecting the carefree nature of Fairy life. As fairies began interacting with other groups, they adopted other deities as part of Olina’s Court – Rhys, the god of the Dryads and Nymphs, represents fertility, while Helene, the goddess of the Humans represents magic. They are viewed as lesser spirits to the Fairies, “servants” in Olina’s Court who help the Joyful Goddess with her work. Fairy “church” is very casual and very fun. They gather a few times a year, based on the seasons, to celebrate the natural world. There is a lot of music and dancing and laughing. They also gather to celebrate marital unions and births, generally gathering every few weeks to celebrate everything that happened during that time.

After the Great War, as they began interacting with Humans more, they started creating new, stricter, religious “rules”. They wrote a holy book and introduced ritualized prayers for certain celebrations, because they wanted their religion to look more like the Human religion. (The Dryads and Nymphs on the other hand have almost no ritual or structure to their worship and even after the Great War rejected the Human notion of holy texts and rituals).

Laws – Fairies have pretty basic laws – no killing, no stealing, no rape. They ownership laws but have a trade based economy. Their laws of inheritance are based on age, titles, houses, and possessions go to the “next of kin” regardless of gender to be sorted out.

Because of their short lifespan and casual lifestyle, not much else is needed. They do have some “international laws” dictating territory boundaries, how and why and where Humans may enter or pass through their territory, and how, why, and how much as far as Humans gathering wood from their territory.

April Recap

Huh. I thought this got published. Well, better late than never.

First, I celebrated a birthday this month. Second, I’m a spring baby so seeing it snow past the middle of April got me really down. Third, I got my first dan black belt! This time next year I’ll be testing for my second dan!

I decided to switch up my schedule so I could beat the slump I’ve been in. So, here’s what I accomplished in writing this month:

  • I put Cheyanne and Fifty-Fifty (the last two Underground Stories which will make up the eighth book) on hold. I’ll write them in June or July.
  • I’ve started Whispers in the Dark, Book 1 of the Zoedavian Chronicles. This is the first series to take place in this world.
  • I’ve started the Tales from Thelara blog, a blog dedicated to the world of the Zoedavian Chronicles.
  • MONTHLY WORD COUNT and I topped 200k words for the year around the 23rd. I should reach the halfway point of my yearly goal (260k) in mid-to-late May
  • I did Camp Nano and beat my 40k goal.
  • I did two shows this month.
  • TURNCOATS update
  • Memoir is coming along, slowly but surely, and I have plans for two sequels and two new stand-alone novels.

 

 

World Building 4 – Physical Culture

Okay, I just needed a short title for this post. Today we’re talking about cultural aspects shaped by the physical characteristics of the species and the geography of their home.

Let’s start by picking a species. For this example, I’m going to use the Fairies of Thelara, a world I’ve built for a series I’m writing.

Thelaran Fairies are small roughly 9 inches tall. Their body shapes vary (thin, slender, athletic, round) but obesity is rare, since they have to be able to fly. The average height for males is 1-2 inches taller than the average height for females (a tall male is taller than 98% of females, but a short male is shorter than a tall female) Their wings are similar to a dragonfly’s but larger (in proportion to their body) and less fragile. Their skin is similar in colour to Earth Mediterranean or Native American but with a slight green undertone. Hair colours span the natural human range, as do eye colours, though rare human colours like violet are more common among Fairies.

Lifespan – Fairies age/mature at twice the speed of humans. Pregnancies are 4-5 months. By 3 years they are ready for school, by 6-7 years they are into puberty, by 11 years they are physically and sexually mature. By 20 years they are “mid-life) by 30 years they are seniors, by 35 years most are dead. The oldest living fairy every recorded in history or myth was 48 years old.

Thelaran Fairies live in a small wooded area. East-to-West it is located centrally on a large continent but North-to-South it touches the northern coastline. They don’t often venture beyond the northern edge of the trees because the coastal winds are dangerously strong. There is a river running through their territory. There are Humans to the East and West of them, and Dryads living in the trees to the South.

At this point I have identified the major physical attributes and geographical setting. Now to build cultural ideas around that.

Their size will affect diet, fashion, and architecture. They are too small to hunt anything larger than a mouse so their diet consists mainly of fruit and nuts with a small supplement of mouse meat, bird eggs, and bugs. They have a friendly relationship with squirrels, for the most part, but are semi-adversarial with birds. Their clothes are made of leaves, bark, woven grass, and mouse-hide. They live in tree hollows or homes built in the forks of trees. It is rare for Fairies to live at ground level.

Their lifespan and aging pattern affects coming-of-age and marriage customs. Fairy lives are short so traditionally they did not stand on much ceremony. Offspring moved out sometime between 9 and 13 years, finding or building their own homes. Marriage was a casual affair, sometimes not even celebrated until the birth of the first child. They gathered twice a year, once to celebrate the long days of summer, once to celebrate the coming “hibernation”.

Because they live in a Northern region, Fairies enter a period of semi-hibernation from the equivalent of Earth’s mid-November to late-March. They sleep long periods, but not the entire 5-6 months. They stay indoors, often with extended families or multiple families staying together. This is a period of intense education for the children, while the adults pursue artistic endeavors, tell stories, and get pregnant.

During warm weather the focus is on hunting, gathering, and storing food. Everyone over the age of 4 years (the equivalent of 8 years) helps. The elderly help by looking after the young. There is a communal sense to childcare, education, and cooking.

After the Great War, their culture was influenced by greater contact with Humans and they started to develop stricter rituals and rules around marriage and procreation, creating a marriage ritual and deciding that fairies must be wed before having children.

It’s really hard to break down how this all works. For me, it’s a matter of looking at specific details in their geography and physical appearance and figuring out how that will change the way they dress, what they eat, etc. Each detail leads me to a new detail, or a new question to ask. Even though I was trying to focus on Geography and Physical Attributes, history also came into play (by way of interaction with geographic neighbours).

This is just an overview of the Fairies, and a brief example of one aspect of culture building. Here are some questions for you to consider as you start your own project:

  1. What are the basic physical traits of my species? How will their height, weight, or special abilities (like flight) affect where they can/can’t live, and what they can/can’t hunt/farm/gather?
  2. Where do they live? What resources are readily available to them and how can they use these to hunt/gather/build? What resources are scarce and how does that limit what they can hunt/gather/build? How will this affect their trade relations?
  3. What about climate? How does this affect what they wear and how they build their homes? What about growing periods for food?
  4. Religion – Things that are abundant and important are often considered blessings and become associated with a deity. Things that are scarce and important will become sacred and holy. Consider that Egyptians viewed paradise as a place with lots of water and trees and shade. How do geography, climate, and access to resources shape their deities and religious ideas?
  5. Geographic Neighbours – in this example they have two types of neighbours, ones they share their territory with (squirrels and birds, though they are not sentient) and ones their territory neighbours (Humans and Dryads). What is the nature of their political/trade relationships with their neighbours? How does their culture evolve through contact with outside groups?
  6. Classism/Elitism – how does your species/culture group use physical appearance or geography to mark classes? For example, Fairies would view those with houses higher in the trees as more important than Fairies that dwell closer to the ground. Are certain clothes/tattoos/etc reserved for certain classes or jobs (like political or religious leaders)?

We’ve barely scratched the surface of culture and we’ve only drawn on 2 cultural influences. As we go through the next two posts we’ll continue to build on this foundation until we have a well-rounded, functioning culture and society.

If you go back to the last post (An Intro to Culture), each of the culture posts will be linked at the bottom of the post for easy reference.

Don’t want to wait for the next posts? Or maybe you want more than just the overview the World Building posts are providing. Feel free to hope over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book.

World Building 3 – Intro to Culture

I don’t like the term “race”. If you’re talking Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Aliens then you’re talking species. If you’re talking Chinese and Japanese or Dale and Gondor then you’re talking culture or nationality. I’ll be avoiding the word race in the next few posts as I talk about building cultures for fantasy and science fiction where you can’t simply fall back on researching an existing culture.

Culture is a large, messy, complex term that provides an umbrella for a lot of other big pieces of the character puzzle. I took a semester of Cultural Anthropology, enough to know that it’s a huge messy complex thing to study.

Culture includes: religious beliefs, religious structure, political structure, gender ideas, marriage practices, parental practices, coming-of-age rituals and beliefs, ideas and opinions on sex and sexuality, the role of medicine, the arts, fashion, ideas on modesty, symbols, traditions, foods … I’m missing something, I just know I am.

Your job as a writer is to create a culture, not just for each planet, not just for each sentient species on each planet, but for each nationality and/or geographic region of each species on each planet. We only have one single sentient, dominant species on our planet and we have hundreds of cultures. I know you’re thinking “okay, but what about Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons? What about Orcs? What about …” What about cliches getting really old really fast? Mono-culture worlds were and are very common because they’re easy, especially in science fiction where we assume a spacefaring alien species has organized under a global government. Again, imagine Earth. If we organized under one religion would we be able to exist with a single religion? A single way of practicing a single religion? I doubt it.

There are options! Before you run away from your project, screaming in terror, there are options and short cuts to make this easier.

  1. limit the number of species you’re working with. David Eddings wrote 2, 5-book epic fantasy sagas in a single world following a single band of main characters and he had 3.5 species, humans, gods, “monsters” (sentient or semi-sentient species, one of which were the humanoid dryads, who had refused the gods and gone “mad” because of it) and “wizards” (humans that had discovered universal secrets and could do cool things). Most of the stories revolve around humans. That’s it. He had 12 maybe 13 cultures for his humans to belong to. You don’t even have to go that big because …
  2. limit the geographical scope of your book. David Eddings wrote a fantasy epic spanning a massive continent. You don’t have to. Sherry Peters wrote a comedic fantasy about a female dwarf in love with an elf. The majority of book 1 takes place in a single city. You meet 2 cultures and brush up against 2 others in passing. Most of the characters belong to a single culture and live in a single location. In book 2 she expands to a new city where this sheltered character starts to learn about other people. Limiting your story to a single city, or a single country, isolated from others by a magical barrier, a mountain range, or the ocean, is a good way to narrow your world building
  3. This applies to aliens too. When your crew meets the aliens, and you get the Q&A getting-to-know-you stuff, you can add in an exchange like HUMAN “Oh, so you eat XYZ by frying it in LMN!” ALIEN “Well, we do, but our neighbours in ‘country’ never eat it.” or “So all of you worship a god of technology?” “Actually, I failed my world religions class so I don’t exactly know. I know there are other religions, I just don’t know how to describe them to you. Alf in engineering might know.” By implying that the alien world is large and diverse, you can focus on the cultures of the characters in play and ignore the others

How do you go about building your cultures? My first step is to select a species and identify their physical attributes and geographic location and work out cultural aspects that are directly affected by those things (which will be World Building Post #4). Next, I like to tackle the big two: religion and government. I get the bare bones structure down for each but leave room to expand traditions, feasts, and folklore as I work on other things (we’ll go over that in World Building Post #5). Then it’s down to the nitty-gritty like laws, gender, and everything else on that list (you guessed it, World Building Post #6).

The whole process is a give and take because culture is a living breathing thing. Diet affects religion, geography and climate affect ideas on modesty, politics and religion affect gender roles and vice versa, available resources affect diet, fashion, architecture, and gender roles … you may add a detail to one thing and realize it ripples through things you’ve already built.

A NOTE ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION: Humans have really done just about everything at some point somewhere on our planet. The trick to building new cultures is to borrow inspiration from a variety of places and weave it together, and to do so respectfully and responsibly. As I go through the this lesson on culture, I will be referencing some of the cultures I’m building for Thelara and I’ll be explaining where I borrowed from and how I intend to keep that borrowing respectful.

Don’t want to wait for the next posts? Or maybe you want more than just the overview the World Building posts are providing. Feel free to hope over to Amazon and order your copy of The Ultimate World Building Book.