Archive for research

Two Tips to Help You Start Writing a Book

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Ideas for Writing a Book

Sorry I’m late today. I took the kids on an unexpected trip. Here’s your article this week for what I believe are the two most helpful tips for getting started in writing that book you’ve always wanted to write:

Have you ever had a great idea for a project, but never really started it? This happens a lot when it comes to writing a book. It all starts with an idea, but then ends once you start thinking about all the complicated aspects that go into it. Some people can just sit down and write. But they either know enough about writing to know exactly what is needed to make a good story, or they’re just winging it and hoping a good story will turn out well on accident. You’re probably not the first type or you wouldn’t be here. 🙂 And if your the later type, you probably don’t want to simply just wing it on your great idea. So here are two tips to help you start writing a book.

Break Down Your Tasks

Writing a book can be a very daunting task. If you’ve done some research, you’re probably overwhelmed with all the things you need to do. So the first step in getting that books started is to stop thinking about all of it at once. Break the tasks down into pieces and do one piece at a time. If you’re not familiar with all the aspects of writing a book, this list could change. But at least your brain isn’t trying to process everything at once.

What I’ve done is created a folder on my computer. The main folder is the title of my book. When I open that folder, there are more folders. There are folders for writing tips, research resources, my character journals, publishing information, and more. Several documents are found in the writing tips folder. One document covers plotting tips, another for character development tips, one for tips on adding conflict, and so on. The documents contain things I’ve typed out or links to websites I’ve found that provided good information.

You don’t have to do yours on your computer. You can also create a binder. At first, your computer folders or binder will have very little information in them. But as you write, you’ll find other things to add. This process will help you grow and help you keep organized at the same time.

Plot Storyboard

Plot Storyboard

Create a Plot Storyboard

To write a good story, you MUST MUST MUST have a plot. If your good story idea is about someone who gets into a lot of adventures with no end in sight, your readers are going to get very bored. A well-organized plot can turn even the most amateur writers into good storytellers.

To create a good plot, you need to think about what your character wants to achieve by the end of the book. They have to really want it and you have to help the reader really want it for them too. Then you need to think of complications that your character encounters that make it difficult for him to reach his goals. And these complications have to escalate to a point where your character considers giving up.

The above image is something you can use. You can also use note cards or consider software such as Scrivener. I, personally, like note cards. Note cards allow me to create subplots that I can put in story sequence around the main plot. I’ve heard a lot of other writers praise Scrivener and other software programs. Find what works best for you.

Next week, I’ll provide a generic outline for a storyboard. In the meantime, feel free to comment on this post.

Do Research for Your Fantasy Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2014 by Dawn Ross

Just because you’re writing a fantasy novel where everything is make-believe doesn’t mean you won’t have any research to do. There is more to a story than just the action and the dialog. There are certain things you will need to know in order to get your ideas across properly.

Aimee's Horses

For example, if your fantasy world takes in a medieval setting, you will probably need to know a little bit about horses. It might be a good idea to research the kind of trappings used. You wouldn’t want to get the use of a halter mixed up with the use of the bridle. You may also want to know that male horses were not generally used for riding unless they were war horses or gelded. And what is the difference in speed for a cantering horse versus a trotting horse? Even if you don’t have horses in your fantasy novel, you may have other animals that people used for transportation. Camels? Giant birds, perhaps? They need saddles and stirrups too.

A Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference

Knowing a little about horses is just a fraction of all the things you need to research for your fantasy novel. “The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference” can give you some ideas where to start. But it doesn’t give you everything. Think about what you might need to know about, and then put together a reference binder for your information. My reference binder includes the following:

Map of Ungal

Tab A – Maps and Charts
This tab has a map of my make-believe world, a family tree for the most notable characters, and a generic layout of a castle. The map is probably the most important for any fantasy novel because people are living in a world that doesn’t exist. You don’t want to mistakenly tell your readers that a particular town is to the south of a particular city in one chapter, but then state it is to the east in another. Mapping it out helps you keep things straight and provides your reader a visual reference.

Karl Urban - Eomer de Lord Of The Rings trilogy

Tab B: Character Descriptions
Every single character I mention in my novel is kept in this section of my reference. It helps me build a detailed description of my main characters and keep track of minor characters. This way I don’t accidentally state a character had brown hair in one section and sandy-blond in another. I also use this section to describe basic physical characteristics of different races of people.

And I’ve also put clothing descriptions under this tab. What did people wear? Did they wear pants, breaches, or leggings? What kind of cloth were clothes made of? What were the different styles of a woman’s dress or headdress? What about shoes? If you are writing about people of different races, they probably had different styles of clothing too. It’s best to decide this in advance before you start writing. It makes visualizing and describing your characters much easier.

saruman, gandalf, radagast blue wizard lord of the rings hobbit

Tab C: Magic and Religion
If people use magic or special skills in your fantasy novel, you need to make up a set of rules. Anything goes with magic, but if you don’t set rules then your reader will wonder why your character didn’t simply use magic to get out of trouble. Decide how magic works in your novel, who can use this magic, and what its limitations are.

Every culture has some form of worship. Do people worship at home with little shrines next to the hearth or does their king require human sacrifices? Is there a religious order or do people simply worship the gods of their ancestors? And let’s say you do have an organized religion. What is the head of this religion called? Is he the Father, the Pope, the Archbishop? Don’t forget to research the different kinds of religious garments. What is an amice, a cassock, a chasuble, for example?

Tab D: Place and People Names
So that I didn’t have to make up a name every time I introduced a new character or place, I made up names in advance. I also grouped these names into different styles. For example, the Menkharan’s have Egyptian-sounding names. The Outlanders have Nordic-sounding names. And the Miyashi have Oriental-sounding names. I got the ideas for names and places by searching through history books and changing them a bit to suit my own tastes.

Knight in Shining Armor

Tab E: Arms and Armor
Swords, knives, and bows and arrows were not the only weapons used by people in medieval times. There were halberds, lances, cudgels, spears, and more. And let’s not forget there are many different kinds of swords, knives, and bows. A sword could be short, it could require the use of two hands or one, it could have a curved blade like a scimitar, or perhaps long and thin one like a Samuri sword.

Armor is something else to think about. Most regular foot soldiers did not wear metal armor. Their armor was made of leather or thick wool. If one did have metal armor, it was generally just the helmet and a simple breastplate. The nobility could get fancy, though. Helmets could be plumed, egg-shaped bascinets, pot helms, and more. Different parts of armor have different names and these could all vary by region and style.

Also under this tab is information on siege engines, battle strategies, military ranks, and more.

Blue Fantasy Dragon

Tab F: Mythical Creatures
What are your dragons like? Are they wise creatures or simply vicious animals? Can they fly? Are there different kinds of dragons? What about made-up creatures? What are their qualities? It helps to know the details of your mythical creatures before you write your story. Make-believe creatures are going to require a lot more detail in description than a horse or a dog.

At the Heart of Winter, Nick Deligaris (2D)

Tab G: Miscellaneous
This tab covers a little bit of everything – business entities in a city, kinds of rock or materials used to build with, architectural terms, farming seasons and equipment, different kinds of foods, kinds of trees a forest might have, common medieval diseases and medicines, horses, medieval furniture, kind of money used, musical instruments, governmental structures from scribes to kings, law courts, taxes, travel means, board games and outdoor contests held, about hunting with dogs or falcons, seafaring terminology, different kinds of boats, titles of the nobility, marriage customs, etc.

As you can see, there is a lot more to think about when writing a fantasy novel than just the story. If you don’t organize it in advance, you may find yourself having to stop your flow of writing so you can figure something out. This can be disruptive, especially if you’re like me and can only write under certain motivating conditions.

Research can be boring, but knowing what you are talking about will keep your readers from being distracted by mistakes. Can you think of something you’ve read that could have used more research? Have you tried to write something only to find there were a lot of things you didn’t know anything about?

The Political Environment of Your Fantasy Novel

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , , on October 6, 2012 by Dawn Ross

No, I’m not talking about modern politics where candidates debate over the various issues of the day (although your fantasy world could have these elements). I’m talking about the way people live in society. Even though fantasy is whatever your imagination makes it, it has to be grounded in concepts which we understand. It helps to research various societies, both historical and modern. Here are some questions you should consider when you are creating your make-believe world.

Who Rules?
Is your fantasy world run by a king, a tyrant, a council of nobles, an elected council, the church, a clan chief, a god, etc.? How are kings, nobles, or chiefs made? Is your king or chief a direct descendant of other rulers or is he/she determined by their military prowess? Are councils elected by the nobility or the people? Does the church have more control or the king?

Who Controls the Land?
Do people work as serfs under a lord or do they own it outright? How static or dynamic are your world’s borders? Are there disputes over certain territories or is it generally stable? How widespread or close together are the people in the land?

How does Commerce Work?
Are certain occupations controlled by guilds? Do people have the freedom to make and sell whatever they want or are enterprises controlled by the nobility or church? For example, do they have to get permission from the local ruler to run an inn or a smithy? What about taxes? Is there corruption? Are there groups akin to gangs or mob bosses of whom the people have to pay “protection”? Do people barter and trade or is there an established money system? How stable is that money system?

What are the Various Occupations of your People?
Consider various occupations such as fishermen, soldiers, mercenaries, farmers, smiths, farriers, teachers, innkeepers, wagoners, stablemen, postmen, prostitutes, musicians, sailors, merchants, traders, etc. How does each member of society interact with other members? For example, how do farmers perceive soldiers and vice versa? How do land dwellers perceive sailors? Are merchants generally perceived as fair or do they tend to trick and deceive? Does society appreciate art performers such as bards or musicians or are they seen as beggars and thieves?

Who gets Educated?
Is education open to everyone or limited to the upper classes of society? Are there formal educational institutions such as universities, schools for soldiers, or schools for magic? How accessible are books or scrolls? Are there libraries? Who runs the libraries, the nobles or the church? How much of society knows how to read?

Who Administers the Law?
There are generally differences between town guards and soldiers. What are those differences and what are their objectives? Who are these law enforcers or soldiers controlled by? Are they corrupted? Does the king control all the soldiers and law enforcement or does each town have their own? Don’t forget about the justice system. Is there a formal court system? How difficult is it for an ordinary person to get justice? Is there corruption here as well? How strict is the law? How harsh are punishments?

Are there Foreign Interactions?
Is there a particular land in which your world has to deal with, either amicably or not? How pervasive are these foreigners? Does your land have foreign invaders? How commonplace is trade with these foreigners? What exotic wares do your foreigners bring? What special skills? How tolerant is your society of foreigners? What is the political environment of these foreigners?

These are just a few of the political questions I could think of. I’m sure as you write your fantasy novel more will occur to you. Doing the research for your political environment can be a boring chore but it can also be intriguing. It might even help you come up with some conflict ideas in your story. For example, perhaps your character hates sailors but finds that he has to travel on a ship. Or your character needs to seek justice but administrators require a bribe before they will even bother to hear your complaint. The possibilities are endless!

Click HERE for a list of books that might help you in your research.