World Building Questions

Here are some questions to help you get started:

Where will the story take place? Will it be a magical world? Will there be demons, witches, ogres, made up animals?

How much ground will the story cover? Will you need to draw a map to keep things in perspective? How long will it take to travel to whole of the land?

What are the most striking features of landscape, climate, animals, etc. in this area? What are the dangers? Where should your characters avoid? Where are they safe?

How will these features affect travel time, communication, etc.? Do you have technology? Is your world more medieval?

Are there are non-human inhabitants and are there any areas they particularly claim as their own? Are they dangerous? Can you characters defend themselves against them?

Is magic used by the people in general or by a select few? Are there limits to the powers? Are there consequences when magic is used? Maybe it won’t be used at all.

Who or what live in your world? Are they three eyed monsters who only eat green leaves? Dragons who breath deadly vapours? Wizards who cast many a spell or just ordinary humans? Write about each variety of creature/human in as much detail as possible so that you know them inside out.

Do the inhabitants think in terms of days and weeks, miles and kilometres or is their world governed by the passing phases of the moon and distances counted in leagues?

Think about everyday clashes within the inhabitants and amongst all of the inhabitants. For example, if you have people that use magic but only a selected few have this ability – will there be conflict between the people who do use it and the people who don’t? Will the users feel they are superior? Think about religion and politics too and how these things affect your characters.

Think about things like how many suns/moons circle your world, the fauna and flora, the animals and the seasons.

How do your characters travel the land? Are there only horses and wagons, or do they have trains and air craft?

Think about the neighbouring kingdoms of your land. Are the inhabitants friendly or hostile? Do the kingdoms trade goods, fight, have different beliefs?

Consider doing a timeline, showing the history of your world for the last 200 or 300 years. Make sure you include at least one major event in each 100 years.

The Forgotten (Movie)

The Forgotten – Highly recommended.

We saw this movie yesterday. Although I’ve seen mixed reveiws regarding the value of the movie, I would say it’s well worth watching and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The acting was great, the effects were superb and the storyline was original with a interesting twist. Unless you’ve seen the movie this next statement will mean nothing to you but I liked the concept that “we can do nothing about it, we just have to pick up the pieces”.

I wouldn’t say it’s a scary movie, it’s a suspense with some great “jump out of the seat” moments. I’m glad I ignored the reviews and saw it for myself. I wasn’t disappointed.

Charaters: Without them, there is no story!

Remember that your reader invests time and money into your story and it is important that your characters capture your reader’s attention, so that they will want to spend more time getting to know them. If the reader does not develop an interest or connection with the main characters from the beginning, chances are they will not feel compelled to finish reading your characters’ story. One of the best ways to make sure this does not happen is to make sure you develop plausible, complex characters. This is crucial to successful storytelling.

Your Main Characters

These characters are normally the people you introduce in the opening chapters of your story. Remember that your main characters must appear throughout the entire story. It is a good idea to do a “Character Profile” for each of your main characters which will cut out a lot of confusion when you are working on your story itself.

It is hard to remember everything that you have said about a character so building a character profile will eliminate any embarrassing errors (ie Mary had blond hair at the beginning of the a chapter but somehow ended up with auburn hair near the end).

Some people just work out the very basics such as how old they are and what colour hair they have. Are they tall, short? Can they be based on someone you know? And, naturally, what are their names? That sort of thing.

Others prefer to go to a lot of trouble and prepare cards with the necessary information written on them, or start data bases on their computers and some go as far as filling out large questionnaires.

It really depends on how complex your characters are but here’s a list of some of the questions you could be asking yourself:

  • Character’s Name
  • Age
  • Birthdate
  • Weight
  • Height and Build (example, 5″2′, petite slender build)
  • Gender
  • Religion or other beliefs
  • Hair Colour
  • Eye Colour
  • Does the character wear glasses or contacts?
  • Does the character have any health problems? (If so, explain)
  • Shape of face
  • Any distinguishing marks or scars?
  • Type of personality
  • Marital status
  • Does character have a current love interest?
  • If so, what is that person’s name & how long have they been together?
  • How did they meet?
  • Any children (If they do have children, list their names & ages)
  • Occupation
  • Mother’s Name
  • Father’s Name
  • Who raised the character as a child?
  • What was their childhood like? (Happy, tragic, lonely, etc)
  • Does the character have any brothers and sisters? (If yes, list their names and ages)
  • Where were they born?
  • Where are they living now?
  • Weaknesses
  • Strengths
  • Any bad habits? If so, what?
  • Character’s Best Friend(s)
  • Any enemies. Why?

I’m sure you could think of several others too.

When developing your characters, keep the following in mind:

  • Solid Background. Give the character a history. Describe their home, possessions, medical histories, tastes in furniture, political opinions.
  • Speech. The way your character speaks (both content and manner) also portrays their personality: are they shy and reticent, aggressive and frank, coy or humorous.
  • Behaviour. Always be consistent with the way your character acts. It’s all right for the character to grow throughout the story but you should never swap between two sets of behaviour as this confuses the reader and your character becomes less real.
  • Motivation. The characters should have good and sufficient reasons for their actions, and should carry those actions out with plausible skills. If we don’t believe characters would do what the author tells us they do, the story fails.
  • Change. As the story progresses your characters should respond to their experiences they are having by changing–or by working hard to avoid changing. It is only natural that the more we experience the more we grow and your characters are no different. If a character seems the same at the end of a story as at the beginning, the reader should know why the character didn’t change.

Your Other Characters

Think of the “Other Characters” like you would “extras” used in a movie. “Other Characters” should be used to advance your story, to teach your main character an important lesson, and/or give them information needed in order to advance your plot line. Although it is generally good to know a few facts about these characters, as it makes the storyline more realistic, normally a full character profile is not necessary. Often, these characters will not even have a name.

Choosing the Right Name

When selecting a name for your character, there are a couple of things that you should consider:

  • Personality – Consider the personality of your character’s parents; and the personality of the character you are trying to portray.
  • First Impression – Often your character’s name will portray an image to your reader. For example, if you are creating a story about a twenty-year-old heroine you may want to consider a name that was fashionable twenty-years-ago, not a more old-fashioned name such as Ethel, Bertha, Mabel, etc. Remember that there are exceptions to the rule as your character may have been named after a great grandparent, an aunt or uncle.
  • Era – Different names range in popularity in different time periods. For example, if your story was set in a fictional western frontier in the 1800’s you may not want to name your herione Skye or Summer. Although these are lovely names; and popular today, the names were not at the height of their popularity during the 1800’s. Names such as Mary, Elizabeth, Eleanor, etc would be more appropriate. A great way to find out what was popular during a specific time period is to consult old census reports, history books, or even to read novels written or set up in that particular time period.

Here are some places you can look to find names:

  • Baby Name Books
  • Census Reports
  • History Books
  • Telephone Books
  • Character Naming Sourcebooks (can be ordered from book clubs or found at local bookstores)
  • The Bible
  • Old Family Records
  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Soap Operas/Movies/TV
  • Library Books

However you decide to name your character and whatever you decide to name them, be sure to remember that the name you choose will convey an image of your character’s appearance to the reader.

Finally, enjoy creating your characters. You’ll be surprised how quickly they become part of you.

Castle under siege!

There were many ways of attacking a medieval castle, and almost as many means of countering such attacks.

Ways to Attack

catapultThe first step was to batter the walls with a variety of “engines”, the most common being the catapult or mangonel. Its throwing beam would haul a massive stone, a pot of flaming “Greek fire”, a dead horse (which might infect the garrison) or sometimes… a captured messenger (to show that all hope of relief was in vain).

Another popular method used, was undermining. Beginning some distance away, miners burrowed beneath the defences, supporting their tunnel with wooden props. They then filled the mine with combustible materials – such as, the fat of half a dozen pigs – and fired them, burning away the supports, collapsing the tunnel and, with luck, demolishing the wall above it.

If the castle was founded on solid rock or was surronded by a moat, undermining was a useless method and in these cases it was often necessary to storm the walls instead by using ladders or a “belfry”. A belfry was a wheeled tower with the uppermost platform being the same height as the top of the castle walls. Another method would have been to assault the wooden gate of the castle with an iron-headed battering ram, swung on a sturdy frame.

A traitor within the walls of the castle was the second most effective weapon, whereas, the most effective was cutting off the supplies to the castle. All castles had a well, but if this dried up or was poisoned, the defenders ultimately had to surrender.

Countering the Attack

If the garrison suspected that the castle was being undermined, they could sometimes locate the underground workings by standing jugs filled with water in different parts of the fortress and observing them when they vibrated. They could then sink a counter-mine from inside the castle, and either slaughter the opposing diggers with hand-to-hand fighting, or fill their tunnel with water.

belfyThe people defending the castle (this was usually any able person, not just the garrison) knew that eventually the walls of the castle would be attacked. In defence they would use anything that came to hand to stop the attackers breaching the walls. “Firepots” were dropped from above onto the people scaling the ladders or using the battering ram, along with javelins, stones, boiling oil and a scalding oatmeal mush which stuck to besiegers’ skins.

If the attackers managed to get within the outer gate, they probably found themselves trapped in a passage between two portcullises, here they would be showered with missiles from “murder holes’ in its roof.

Marking Time

Like most early civilizations, the ancient Egyptians measured the passing of time by the phases of the moon. Their first calendar was based on the lunar cycle – the 29 or 30 days from one new moon to the next. A year consisted of three four-month seasons, and the new year was heralded by the star they called Sopdet that appeared just above the horizon at dawn around the time of the annual Nile flood.

moonThe lunar calendar was not without problems: The first day of each new month was unpredictable, and no one knew in advance exactly how many days a particular month would have. Days or even weeks might pass between the end of the last lunar month of the year and the reappearance of Sopdet. For most people in this agricultural society, these were minor inconveniences, but the civil bureaucracy needed a more consistent system – a year with a fixed number of days, not subject to the variations of moon and stars.

Around 2900 BC, a civil calendar was adopted based on a solar year of 365 days. It had 12 months of 30 days each – with three 10-day weeks – plus five days between the old and new years set aside for religious feasts. Years were numbered consecutively within the reign of each pharaoh.

But like any calendar divided into days, it missed the sun’s exact annual cycle by about six hours. The result was that, over the course of four years, the civil calendar crept one full day ahead of the true solar year. Once its inaccuracy became obvious, the civil calendar was probably just ignored by farmers and other simple folk, even though the government was tied to its errant schedule. Eventually, about 2500 BC, an official lunar calendar was installed side by side with the civil calendar. It served mainly to schedule religious events and the lunar feast day that gave each month its name.

To measure the passage of time during daylight hours, the Egyptians had sun clocks, similar to a sundial. Some Middle Kingdom coffins were decorated with star clocks – a list of stars known as decans that were identified with different hours of the night at various times of the year.

During the reign of the New Kingdom pharaoh Amenhotep I, clocks that kept time without reliance on the sun or stars made their appearance. These clocks consisted of a water-filled vase with a very small perforation in the bottom. The inside of the vase was inscribed at different levels to mark the hours. These water clocks were often carved in the shape of a baboon, an animal representing the god Thoth, who was associated with the measurement of time. It is interesting to note that except for the abstract concept of at or moment, the Egyptians – for all their skill as timekeepers – had no name for a unit of time shorter than an hour.

POV: Who’s telling your story?

Multiple viewpoints are very useful in any novel! In the third person, several viewpoint’s allow the reader wider access to knowledge and events not necessarily involving each character in the story. In addition, changing the viewpoint will often increase the pace of the story and can be used to create mystery and tension.

It is acceptable to use at least two Point of View characters yet four is a good number for most novels. If your story is long and stretches over a longer period of time, however, 6 to 8 is quite reasonable. You should only use main characters, NEVER tell a story from a minor characters Point of View, not even for one paragraph. The reader will automatically assume the character is important, and will wait for him to reappear in the story to do something crucial to the storyline.

It is important to remember, however, shifting viewpoints too often may irritate the reader and you should never change viewpoint within a paragraph or scene. Always swap viewpoints with a chapter or scene break, which is usually marked with three or four asterisks. The opening line of the new paragraph should immediately tell the reader whose viewpoint it is so that it is easier for the reader to follow the storyline.

Types of Point of View

  • First person – I go, ie. an eyewitness account
  • Third person – he/she goes, ie. narrator can be absent
  • Second person – you go, (used mainly in non fiction)
  • Third person plural – they go

Advantages, Disadvantages and Mistakes of Each View Point

First person

Advantages: Creates an intimacy between the reader and narrator. The reader experiences everything through the narrator’s perceptions, coloured by her motives, driven by her motivations.

Disadvantages: Character must be present during key scenes and the reader can only know what this character knows.

Mistakes: The character describes what is going through other characters’ minds rather than just her own.

Third person

Advantages: Allows the reader to see all the events occurring . Allows the author to mislead the readers without cheating.

Disadvantages: Doesn’t allow a strong identification with any one character and can take longer to impart information.

Mistakes: More likely to switch viewpoints by accident.

Your Voice

This should not be confused with Point of View. Here we are talking about our own trademark, what makes the story ours. Your voice is natural — like how you speak and think. But it changes as you change and depending on the tone of the piece you’re working on. A writer’s voice should be real, authentic and honest.

Some authors write to a ‘recipe’ and every book you pick up written by that person has the same formula. Sidney Sheldon comes to mind, his books are written to a particular formula and the reader can foresee what will happen because of this yet all the books I’ve read of his have kept me captivated to the very end.

Why? His stories keep moving along, he constantly throws in sub-plots and twists to keep things interesting. He doesn’t have a lot of description yet it isn’t necessary. He uses a chapter for one Point of View then the next chapter for another – usually telling a completely different story. The two stories finally come together at the climax and the book is wound up. He has written many books using this same formula and is a successful author. His ‘voice’ is apparent in his writing, this is his trademark (so to speak).

So when you write try to develop and cultivate your own ‘voice’. Something that a reader will recognise and know is you.

The Medieval Horse

The horse was an essential part of the knight’s equipment. Although the knight sometimes fought on foot, he was mostly considered a horse-soldier or cavalryman. He took the greatest pride in the breeding, training and skill of his war horses or destrier.

horse1His horse was the knight’s pride and joy. It was carefully chosen for its strength, stamina and courage. The horse had to be able to charge into yelling, screaming crowds and had to be carefully schooled. In battle, the knight required his hands for holding his sword and shield, so the horse had to be guided by the rider’s knees.

It was not uncommon for the horse to be shod with sharpened shoes so that when their riders reined them in, they rose up on their haunches and beat about them with their deadly forefeet.

There were other kinds of medieval horses. Coursers or running horses were used for war or tournaments; palfreys for travelling or hunting, and hacks for everyday riding. Ladies rode small, spirited horses called jennets.

During the Middle Ages, the bridle consisted of a leather headstall, bit and reins. The headstall was made up of a series of straps fastened around the horse’s head to keep the bit in place. The most popular bit in medieval times was the snaffle. This was a simple jointed metal bar with cheekbars at each end containing rings on to which the cheekbands and the reins were fixed. In the early Middle Ages, the knights used single reins, but during the 13th century double reins became popular. These were often decorated with embroidery.

The saddle consisted of a strong wooden framework which was glued and riveted together, covered with sheepskin, leather or velvet. The covering not only made riding more comfortable but also prevented the horse’s sweat from seeping through into the wooden framework and causing it to rot.

The saddle was kept in place by a series of leather straps. The breast strap was a broad band which passed from the saddle, across the chest and prevented the saddle from slipping back. The girth strap passed from the saddle under the horse’s chest, holding the saddle secure. The crupper stretched from the saddle, along the back and looped under the horse’s tail, to stop the saddle slipping forward.

Horses were sometimes decked out in flowing robes called “caparisons” or “bards”. These were made of cloth, leather and sometimes even mail, although the latter must have been very heavy and uncomfortable. Later, around the 15th century, rich knights protected their war horses with leather or metal armour: a “chamfron” defended the horse’s face; a “crinet” guarded its neck; “flanchards” protected its flanks; and a crupper prevented injury to its back.

Food & Shopping Facts

marketBread was full of grit because bits of the grindstones got into the flour and sand was added to the grain to speed up the grinding. The sand and grit wore away people’s teeth.

Fish and pork were ‘unclean’. That meant they were not acceptable as offerings to the gods. People who were able to choose did not eat them.

Big purchases were sometimes agreed in writing to avoid arguments. A scribe sold an ox for a fine linen tunic and two everyday ones, beeds for a necklace and several sacks (probably of grain, but this is not recorded).

Barley bread was soaked in water sweetened with dates. The liquid fermented to make beer.

Daily rations for a labourer: bread, beer and onions, which were issued to workers on a pyramid site. Their basic pay was in fish, fuel, vegetables, grain and pottery, with beer and dates from time to time. At festivals they got bonuses.

The Nile provided poor people with a cheap source of food. Its waters were full of fish and its marshes were home to huge flocks of birds – duck, crane and teal. If hunters caught too many to eat or sell, the surplus were gutted, dried in the sun and then stored in jars of salt.

You did not take a purse to market. People brought things made at home – mats, cloth, cakes or bread – to exchange for farm produce and craftware – pottery, sandals, jewellery and toys.