Introduction to Whispering Caves

Originally posted on another site on 2 January 2010.

Long ago, in a land far, far away…oh, hang on, that’s Stars Wars not Whispering Caves. Anyway, a long time ago, when I was young and unhappy I wrote a manuscript (two, in fact) that was 200,000+ words. This particular one was written as a form of escape from real life and it was a romantic fantasy in which all good things happened and all the characters were lovable and perfect. Everything was tinged in rose coloured happiness. It was beautiful, but, it wouldn’t have made a good best seller. Actually, it would have been the biggest flop in history! But I loved it.

Back then I was a closet writer, writing for my own enjoyment only. Since then things have changed. My life is no longer unhappy and I am a writer who strives for publication. I have grown in all ways, especially as a writer…yet the manuscript is still a favourite of mine.

Over the years I have tried to transform the manuscript into something other people would be willing to read, and hopefully enjoy. Yet on each occasion, my efforts were unsuccessful. I have always been the first to admit that. In the last six months, I have found myself revisiting the manuscript yet again and, this time, I believe I have the knowledge and know how to do the job properly. This time, I’m willing to give my characters flaws. I’m willing to give them real hang-ups and real problems. I’ve managed to pull myself away from them and tell a real story. A story with a plot, with conflict and emotions. At long last, I’m willing to put these characters through the wringer…and high time too.

I scraped the previous story completely, but kept the setting and the bare bones of the characters (ie their names and parts of their histories). Over the last few months I have been rebuilding the story from the ground up. The setting has been tweaked, as have the characters. A new plot is unfolding slowly. There are still a few unsure bits that I can’t fit into the puzzle all that well, but I’ll find a reason for that with time. And…to my delight…I wrote a short story which tells the events of how my people came to be in the world I’ve created. Everyone were given names and backgrounds and the setting was blended especially well (if I do say so myself) into our own history. I wrote this backstory in the form of a journal written by the main character, in first person. This allowed me to explore reasons and methods for what was happening. By the end of the short story, I felt I had a solid background for Whispering Caves. Almost none of this information will be included in the manuscript, but it’s important I know how things started, where names came from, why some traditions were kept and others discarded. The result is that I have a firm foundation to build the story upon now and that makes me feel very confident that this time I’ll get it right.

Plan of Donnington Castle and Making a Map

I have been building a fantasy world for the trilogy I plan to write.  Part of that research includes finding out the history of Donnington Castle in southern England.  I can’t, or won’t, tell you the reason for this research as it is top secret.  But I will say that I was overjoyed when I found this Plan of Donnington Castle.  It will make things so much easier for me.

Donnington Castle forms only part of what I’ve been doing today. The other part is looking for a suitable map that I can adopt and adapt to my needs. I’ve been searching the world for possible locations and have narrowed my choices down to two likely candidates.

The first is a map which includes Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. I like this map because it has mountain ranges separating two valleys, but it also shows the natural rivers and waterways. Better still is that fact that it isn’t spoilt by town and cities being splattered all over it. If I were to adopt this map and change it to suit my needs I would be starting out with a world that has to be realistic because it’s real! I like that idea.

The second map is an ancient world map. (It’s an impression of what the creator thought the world looked like.) With a few slight changes, no one would know that my fantasy world was based on our own world some eight hundred or so years ago. This one doesn’t show the mountains or rivers (which is unfortunate), but it does show large lakes and several towns with connecting roads, which could be quite useful. This one is also just black and white so I guess, whilst it isn’t as visual as the first map I mentioned, it will be easier to manipulate.

I could, of course, just draw something myself but the way I’m thinking about this is that if I use something that already shows mountains and rivers and towns and roads then I won’t have to worry about anyone saying, “that’s impossible, you can’t have a waterway there, because…” Besides, I’m a planner and I like visual things to inspire me along.

In my office at work there’s an old map of Sydney on the wall. It’s quite large and most visitors cannot help but stand beneath it and stare at it for the longest time. I’ve basically ignored it for eight years because I see it all day, every day. But today was different. Today, I could see a castle placed back from the coast where the racecourse used to be. All the streets went in that general direction, which seems appropriate for a village with a castle in its midst. And then there was a road that would have passed directly by the front of the castle wall and wove around and off to the west (away from the coast, the town and the castle). Could that be a trade road leading to other realms? I could imagine my characters walking down the streets of the village. I could see them pausing at the docks to watch the merchandise being carried off the boats. Some of the buildings (on the print) were the homes of important people in Australian history, but I could see other names in their spots, names of my characters. If the print wasn’t so large, I would have taken it down and scanned it. Now I think I’ll have to take a photo of it and transpose the relevant information onto my own drawing because the print inspired me and set my imagination running.

By the time I’ve finished with the maps, no one will know where they came from and how close to the real world they really are. Or maybe the real and fantasy entwine to become one magical place.

I like the sound of that. 🙂

30 Days of WorldBuilding

With my recent decision to scrap a couple of projects I’ve been working on, one in particular, I’ve been thinking about what projects I’m going to concentrate on now.

Not being one for working on too many projects at a time, I’ve decided to go with two manuscripts.  One is a much loved project that has been finished, but needs replanning and rewriting – The Marlinor Trilogy.  The other is new and different to what I’ve worked on in the past – the non-fiction children’s picture book.

At opposite ends of the scale, I think that will work in my favour.  There certainly could not be any confusion between the two as they are different in every sense of the word.

The non-fiction picture book is in the first draft.  I’ve been considering ways to make it entertaining for the intended audience and will put those thoughts into action once I’ve finished the book I’m reading.  I also need to complete my research on writing proposals in order to submit the project when it has been completed.

The trilogy is a different story.  It’s complex and, although I know the characters, world and plot of book 1, I need to plot out the other two books.  I plan to start again and rebuild the characters and the world, which brings me to the reason for this post…

The author of the following quote and subsequent link claims that if you put 15 minutes aside each day for 30 days, you can build a complete world worthy of your story.  She has written a post for each day in the form of an exercise where she gives an explanation of what you’ll be doing and why and then she’ll set you a task to do.  I haven’t checked the whole 30 days, but I believe this could be helpful in putting all writers on the right track.

And if you want to build a magical world, there’s a link to some extra information at the bottom of the sidebar.

A lot of times, people want to write a novel and think “I want to write fantasy, but there’s so much world-building I would have to do– I haven’t done any of it!” As everyone signing up for NaNoWriMo or any writing challenge quickly learns, this is really the self-editor speaking; it’s another way of saying “I can’t.”

So, give yourself 7 and a half hours this month– 15 minutes a day– to build a world. It’s not going to be Perfect or Set. Why would it be? You haven’t actually written the story yet, you haven’t tested its limits. But it’ll give you something to start with, something to feel comfortable about when you start.

via 30 Days of WorldBuilding by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant

To Plan or Not to Plan

Life has been busy and I haven’t had time to do much of anything lately, especially do the internet rounds and check up on my fellow writers. Today, however, I decided to correct that and have been doing the rounds.

The first stop was Benjamin Solah’s website. He’s getting ready to participate in this year’s NaNoWriMo which means he’s planning the 50,000 words he has to endeavour to write in the month of November. Because of this Benjamin has written some very interesting, and inspiring, posts which I’d like to link to here. First, there is NaNoWriMo: How I Plot My Novel and then there is NaNoWriMo: How I Create Characters. As I’m very much a visual person, I love the idea of using gaming facilities such as Simms to build a character. Anyway, both of these posts made me thinking about my own writing, so if you need something to help you along, go and give them a read.

When I landed on Struggling Writer’s website, I was pleased to find a post that is in contract to Benjamin’s. Whilst Benjamin is planning, planning, planning, Struggling Writer (also participating in NaNoWriMo) is set on not planning! If you are not much of a planner, then his post Novel Planning for Pantsers might be of interest to you. Struggling Writer admits that this year he’s going to remain a pantser writer by doing a bare minimal amount of what some would call planning. He has included some links to some interesting writing resources too.

For me, it’s been an interesting and informative hour or so. My fellow writers are planning and not planning for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (which I won’t be participating in this year), but the ideas they share (as well as the links) are all worthwhile and inspiring. Personally, I’m a planner from way back, but that doesn’t mean I can’t find inspiration from a non-planner, because I have.

Thanks guys and good luck in November.

Using Mind Mapping to Plan a Writing Project

Deborah Woehr has written two inspiring posts on this topic:

1. Experimenting with the Mind Map Technique, and,
2. How to Draw a Basic Mind Map of Your Characters.

I say these posts are inspiring because they lit something creative inside me that forced me to try mind mapping in my own writing. I’ve been having trouble moving forward with my projects, so trying something different certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Due to the life issues I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ve decided to put Mirror Image on a back burner for a while as I’m not mentally strong enough to deal with that manuscript at the moment. Having made that decision, I turned to my other projects and felt myself drawn back to my children’s series. It was whilst I was combing the internet looking for inspiration that I came across Deborah’s first post.

Immediately, I felt the urge to try one of the software programmes she mentions in her post and I quickly found myself stalled. I was a little annoyed by this so I returned to the internet and revised my search strings, but continued combing the internet. At this stage I found a hand drawn image that resembled a mind map. In the middle was an untitled oval which had five “arms” going in different directions. At the end of the arms, where five simple words:

1. How?
2. When?
3. Where?
4. Who?
5. Why?

With these words, or questions, freshly planted in my mind, I returned to my stalled mind map…and away I went. It was such a simple thing, but these words had a powerful effect on my mind and allowed it to “open” up at last. Finally, my mind map started taking shape and the project is moving forward at last.

Thank you, Deborah, for putting me on the right path.

Taking the Hard Road

Due to the hiccup I’ve experienced over the last few days where Mirror Image is concerned, I’ve decided to do myself a favour and pull back from that manuscript for a short time. I need to let the information I’ve received from the reader and helpful friends on the internet to sink in for a while, without formally doing anything with it. At least I haven’t let the “hiccup” stop me in my tracks. I’m still passionate about Mirror Image and August might see me return to this manuscript, September at the latest.

In the meantime, I will continue working on the plan for the trilogy. At this stage, I have loose concepts for all three books, a general idea of the two threads that will span the entire trilogy and a very firm history rolling around my mind. With this in mind, I have turned my attention to building book one from the ground up. The storyline and characters for book one are well known to me, so this will be relatively easy. My biggest decision will be what changes I want to make…especially to the characters. I was thinking about this on the train this morning and have decided that I will NOT use my previous notes/plan/profiles, I will literally start again. I know my decision will take me along the hard road because using what I already have would be the easy, logical option, but I believe taking the easy road has been my mistake in the past and now I’m willing to start again and do it better because I have evolved as a writer since I first planned and wrote this story.

I have devised my own system, which is a bit like the Snowflake Method in as much as I start with basic information and build from there in small steps. I might go into this in more detail at a later stage, when I know how well it works. I began the process, in earnest, this morning. When the process is finished for book one, I’ll do the same for books two and three.

Planning a Trilogy List Updated

A week or so ago I put together a list to help me organise, and stay focused, on Planning a Trilogy. That list has now been updated to include a couple of things that had previously been forgotten.

Unfortunately, I am unable to cross anything off the list at present, but I have made some progress. I am developing my list of characters (for book 1, at least). I have a vague concept of what books 2 and 3 may be about. I’ve been thinking about themes and premises for all three books, and the trilogy as a whole. And the history, which I intend to write in short story form, is bubbling away nicely in my mind.

Although I haven’t much to show for the time spent on this planning, things are happening and that’s what counts!

I am using TiddlyWiki to organise my planning.

Planning a Trilogy

While Mirror Image is out being read by someone else, I find myself with some time to spare so I thought I’d plan the planning of a fantasy trilogy I want to write. The first book is pretty much fully formed in my head and I know the characters extremely well, so this shouldn’t be too difficult to do. However, being a planner, I’ve decided to make a list of the things that need to be done as I think it will make the process easily overall.

This is my current list (which is subject to change):

1. Work out the general concept of the trilogy as a whole. (This includes a one sentence blurb, a theme and a premise; and the threads that will stretch across the three books.)

2. Use the three act structure to plan my point plots, inciting incident, and the general structure of the entire trilogy.

3. Work out the general concept of book 1.

4. Use the three act structure to plan my point plots, inciting incident, and the general structure of book 1.

5. Work out the general concept of book 2.

6. Use the three act structure to plan my point plots, inciting incident, and the general structure of book 2.

7. Work out the general concept of book 3.

8. Use the three act structure to plan my point plots, inciting incident, and the general structure of book 3.

9. Work on the character profiles for all three books. (This includes their storylines and motives.)

10. Finalise world building aspects. (This includes maps and names of cities, towns, rivers, mountains, etc; religion and superstition; clothing and hair styles; living standards, including homes, food, way of life; modes of transport; medicines available; time structure; enemies and allies; politics; etc.)

11. Create a system for the use of magic (includes who can use it and what it will cost them).

12. Finalise all research material required.

13. Plan how many chapters I’ll need for each book and position the abovementioned plot points accordingly. (This includes having a rough idea what will happen in each chapter, what the conflict is and what each character’s motivation is.)

14. Write a detailed history in short story format. (This will include narrative and dialogue and will give me a firm idea of what “went before”.)

15. Start writing book 1.

16. Write a synopsis for books 2 and 3.

17. Submit a proposal for all three books.

I’m not sure if the order is what I’ll work to. At this stage I just want a list of what I intend to do. I will cross them off the list as I do them. Everything for book 1 will be done without a lot of stress, but I can’t say the same about the two other books. We’ll see what happens there.

No matter what happens. I want to have three solid plans for three solid books before I start writing a single word. I want to know the world, the characters and the plots inside out. And when I have all that planned then, and only then, will words appear on the page. My intention is to write, edit and polish the first book and then find a publisher for it. I will not write the other two books until the first book is sold. That might sound strange, but I feel there’s no point slogging myself to death on one project if I can’t find a home for the first book. When the first book is sold, then I will write the other two books. At least I’ll have in-depth plans in place for both of them…and if book one is with a publishing house then I’ll have the added incentive of publication to spur me on.

This begins the planning of a trilogy called The Kingdom of Marlinor.

Edited on 22 June 2009 to include last two points.

Edited on 30 June 2009 to include the creation of magic.