Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#WeWriteBooks, Post 3: Storyworld

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books in lots of weird genres like fantasy (Blood of Kings and Kinsman Chronicles), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). She's currently writing a post-apocalyptic book with all of you called THIRST in conjunction with the #WeWriteBooks series. 

Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website, where you can read THIRST. You can also try two of her fantasy novels for free here and here.

Welcome to week three of #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays! I'm so excited about how this is going so far. I love reading about all your story ideas in the comments and seeing your enthusiasm for writing. If you're new to #WeWriteBooks Wednesdays, I'm doing a series on how I write a book, one week at a time. And I'm posting my novel over on my author website, one chapter a week. Chapter 1 is up now (click here to read it). The #WeWriteBooks series will end in a BIG contest at the end of August. For information on the contest, see #WeWriteBooks Post 1.

Today's Topic: Storyworld

To recap. Week one was genre (THIRST is post-apocalyptic YA). Week two was premise. Here's mine:
A waterborne disease has sprung up in every corner of the globe, decimating the human race. Young survivors Eli McShane and his friends journey toward Colorado and the rumored location of a safe water source.

Today we are going to talk about storyworld. You all know this is one of my FAVORITE SUBJECTS! I love it so much, I wrote a book about it.  Please keep in mind, when I'm writing a new book in a brand new fantasy world, I spent one to three months just creating the storyworld. So to those of you working on fantasy, don't expect to do this all in one day. Take your time, okay? And if you're writing contemporary or historical, you're not off the hook! This post is for you too, so bear with me.

Keep in mind!

You only need to create storyworld elements that you need for your plot. If your story is about a girl who works on a unicorn farm, you probably don't need to spend much time brainstorming your government. If you don't want magic in your fantasy story, don't create any! If your story takes place in a castle, government might be a big part of the plot, but you might not have a single fantasy creature in the book. This is all okay.

The Illusion

The thing to remember with creating a fantasy world is that you only need to create the illusion that you've created everything. Pick one or two of the areas below that best fit your plot and spend a lot of time perfecting them. Then mention other things when necessary, and your reader will think you went that deep with everything. It works. Trust me.

Many of the storyworld posts that I used as the backbone of my Storyworld First book are listed below. And for you contemporary or historical authors, there are some archive posts listed for you too. Don't overwhelm yourself. You already know your genre and premise, so only work on things that are related to your story. That will keep you safe from falling head over heels into a bad case of storyworld builder's disease!

Posts for creating your own world (fantasy or science fiction):

Creating The World (a good post to start with)
Suspension Of Disbelief
Creating The Civilization
Creating The History
Creating The Government
Creating Religion
8 Tips For Creating A Pantheon
Creating The Magic
Types of Magic
Creating Creatures
Creating The Current Day Conflicts
Worlds Within Our World (for contemporary fantasy authors)
Creating A Historical Timeline
Two Tricks to Integrate Fantasy Elements
How To Keep Track Of It All
Storyworld Builder's Disease (a warning to worlbuilders)

Posts for creating contemporary or historical storyworlds:

How To Build A Rich Setting For A Contemporary Story
Researching Your Setting, part one
Researching Your Setting, part two
Worldbuilding For A Historical Novel
How Do I Start Researching For My Historical Novel?
When You Can't Find A Time Machine

Posts For Helping You Choose Or Better Define Your Setting

How To Pick The Right Setting
Coming Up With A Setting That Feels Real

The Storyworld For THIRST

My story is a little different than most. It starts out in a contemporary setting that quickly devolves into an apocalyptic setting and ends up on the cusp of creating a dystopian society.

Here's how I've done it so far:

Researching My Contemporary Elements
If you've read Chapter 1, you know that I start in the woods in Colorado. As I mentioned last week, my premise deals with the world's water supply going bad. This meant I needed to put my characters in a place where they would be away from the main water source. So I Googled "outdoor survival camps" and stumbled onto one in Colorado. I was able to use pictures from their website and the descriptions of their trips as a model for the setting in my Chapter 1.

The drive at the end of Chapter 1 and into Chapter 2 was a little trickier. I had never been to that part of Colorado/Arizona. So I went on Google Maps and used their street view to drive myself around. This let me see the roadsides, road signs, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, and sometimes the horizon. And when my guys get home to Phoenix and later head back to Flagstaff, I really made use of Google Maps street view. (Click here for a short tutorial on how to do this.) I picked houses for Eli and Riggs, and an apartment for Jaylee. I figured out where the different high schools were. It took time, yes. But it really helped me get into the world my characters lived in.

Researching My Disease
This was the most time-consuming part for me. I really don't like science. And I needed a plausible disease that could quickly wipe out over 90% of earth's population. After hurting my brain trying to Google this, I realized I needed help (because I didn't know what I needed to Google). I asked author Kerry Nietz and a science teacher I knew, and they helped me narrow down my disease. I settled on a waterborne disease that started in a highly populated country and spread from there. It was similar to Cholera, which gave me a disease to mirror as to symptoms and such. I decided that earth had passed through the tail of a comet, which left something deadly in almost all freshwater on the planet. Later, the disease mutates into a bloodborne disease, and that's where the problems really start. Since I'm technically writing science fiction here, I need it to be plausible, to make sense, but it doesn't have to be perfect.

Once I figured all this out, I was able to use Google again. I looked up breakouts of Cholera. I watched news reports on YouTube, which helped me write my own news reports for the book. I looked up Cholera notices, which helped me write the notices for my disease that Eli and friends find posted on the doors of buildings. These things were fun once I got past the science! *grin*

Apocalyptic Setting
Most of this came out of my imagination. And from talking to several of those guys who like to be prepared for the end of the world. I wanted Reinhold to be one of those survivalist guys, the kind who has six months worth of food stored in his basement, who knows how to make his own bullets, who knows how to hunt, farm, and live off the land. Of the survivors, these were the type of people who were going to thrive in my world. Eli is as close as a city kid can get to one of them. So I talked to my survivalist friends who are into this kind of stuff to help me get it right.

On The Cusp Of The Safe Lands
The Safe Lands is built on the town and ski resort of Crested Butte, Colorado. I spent a lot of time on Google Maps, using the names of streets and such in my dystopian series. So for THIRST, the prequel, I would be getting my guys there and starting what would later become The Safe Lands. This was much easier for THIRST than it was for The Safe Lands itself since in THIRST, it's pretty much the same as it is today. It's a contemporary setting. So I went at it the same way I did Phoenix and Flagstaff. But I also had drawn my futuristic Safe Lands map, so I knew the future boundaries of the land. I knew where my rock star lived, and that's where I want my characters to end up at the end of THIRST.

When a world breaks down, new forms of governments crop up. The very loose government that my teens first discover in THIRST is sort of a tribal anarchy. It's a free-loving, everyone shares-type of attitude. The people in charge are the people who own the land. But when the disease mutates and people start dying, things change. My landowners start making rules, rationing safe drinking water, and people who don't like it can leave. So I spent some time setting up what would later become the controlling government of The Safe Lands.

Another thing I did that was important to my particular series of books was to create a timeline that ran through all of THIRST, then listed the major events of the next eighty years leading up to the book Captives. This really helped me with Captives because I now had eighty years of history. I knew when certain laws started and why. I understood when people began moving underground. Depending on your plot, writing a historical timeline can be a great way of understanding your world.

Assignment Time

1. Pick 2 - 4 storyworld elements that you feel are important to your plot. These are things that you'll spend a lot of time inventing and/or researching. Here is a list. And if you have something that's not on my list, use it!

city life
current day conflicts
medicine military
physical and/or mental abilities
rural life school
social classes

That's a lot to pick from!

For THIRST, I would choose two: 1) Disease and 2) Culture

For some other examples:

-The Fault In Our Stars: disease, medicine, Amsterdam
-Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone: magic, history, boarding school
-Divergent: government, culture, technology
-Pride and Prejudice: rural life in Regency England (history), culture of primarily the upper class, military, country dancing!
-By Darkness Hid: civilization, magic, religions/pantheon
-The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet: school, Hispanic culture, drama
-Angel Eyes: supernatural, small town, crime (trafficking)

2. Work on those items you chose. You could start by looking at the list of blog posts above and see if there is one that relates to your topic. Google the topic. Ask for tips in the comments. If you want to learn about Celtic warriors, it could be that one of us knows some resources we could share with you. If you need to use Google Maps street view, do it. If you need to research, research. If you need to do some interviews, start looking for the right people to help you (and read this post on conducting research interviews).

3. Find ways that these elements can clash with one another. With THIRST, people with different culture and/or values sometimes have different priorities, and when someone tries to tell another person how to live, that makes trouble.

Using my book By Darkness Hid as an example, Achan is a stray, and strays aren't allowed to train as Kingsguards. That's part of my civilization. Also, Achan develops a magic that proves the pantheon is myth. This creates a personal conflict for him and sets up a bigger conflict within the government.

Share your assignment findings in the comments. Or if you're stuck and need help, ask! Let's all help each other.


  1. Google Street View is AWESOME for looking at cities I'm nowhere near. It definitely makes a difference when the MC is walking to school and I need to know whether she turns left or right, which street, etc.

    I'll be back later to post the results of the assignment.

    1. Can't wait! It's so fun to see what people come up with:)

    2. Okay, here are three that I chose: (it's a YA Superhero with a road trip)

      Government -- superheroes are enlisted by the U.S. Department of Enhanced Individuals and act almost like another branch of the armed forces. Every country has their own version of the DEI, with their own superheroes that serve their country.

      Magic & Physical and Mental Abilities -- I combined these two because some superheroes have "magic", while others have enhanced abilities (like extremely accurate memory).

      Geography -- because of the road trip element, I'm researching the geography for specific areas of the US, especially Mississippi and West Virginia.

      This one probably doesn't count as a storyworld element, but I'm adding it on to my assignment.

      Maps -- I've drawn out detailed floor plans for houses and I need to print a map of the US so I can mark where my characters go on their road trip.

      Thanks for this week's post, Mrs. Williamson! I can't wait for next Wednesday.

    3. Sounds fun, Linea! You've got lots to do. :-)

    4. OOOhhhhh! Road trips are fun especially when they involve superheroes and magic:) It's a neat concept.

  2. I love storyworld building, and have definitely gone a bit too far before. This time I'll try to stick with things relevant to my story, LOL.
    The four things for me would have to be creatures/fauna, magic, government, pantheon. Most of this stuff I'll invent myself (actually, all of it) so this would be really fun :).

    1. I love building things from the bottom up!

    2. Fun is great, Jason. We authors love fun. ;-)

  3. I'm so exited about this post!!! My book is a western, so law enforcement (or lack thereof) plays a vital role in my story, I think the second most important subject would be culture :)

    1. That's so COOL! I'm writing fantasy, but my WIP has a bit of Old Western mixed in:)

    2. That sounds awesome!

    3. What is your WIP about, if you don't mind me asking?

    4. A girl who's family gets in trouble with a vigilante group (they we'er like sheriffs but they enforced their RULES instead of the LAWS), and they eventually have to fight back.

    5. Ooooohhhh! You can't go wrong with vigilantes and corrupt sheriffs:)

    6. Sounds amazing, Abi. And it will be fun to research the Old West too.

  4. I love world building SO MUCH! I'm working on an epic fantasy, and I'm having a ton of fun creating the histories, the peoples, and timelines (although I hate map making).

    1. Epic fantasy is so cool, though I could never personally do something on such a large scale. Best of luck to you!

    2. Whoo hoo, Lily! Create, create, create!

  5. This is a different one from my original plan--I've decided that I'm returning to my half-finished NaNo project (completely rewriting from the beginning because the original draft was pretty hopeless) instead of starting totally new--but my four would be weather, magic, crime, government.

    1. First drafts are always a mess, but it will be well worth it once you sort it out!

    2. Interesting combination or storyworld elements, Ellie! Love it.

  6. This is SO cool! Though difficult since my main characters all come from different time periods in a world of fractured time. However, they spend the majority of the book in the Egyptian/Old Western time, so my four would be:

    (Since my laptop is being difficult, I'm sorry if this comment has been sent before)

  7. I think my four would be magic, culture, geography, and medicine :) I'll be back with what I come up with for these later!

    1. Oooooohhhh! Why is medicine so important in your world (it intrigues me)?

    2. Well, you see, my story (which is fantasy, btw) is about a mute orphan girl with a natural talent for doctoring people. She is adopted by the court physician to work as his apprentice, and so she learns a lot about various medicines, cures and so on, which is why I need to learn about them and/or make them up, first.
      Then, the main "problem" of the story is that the prince is cursed with a fatal sickness by an evil witch, and the girl must find a cure before he dies.

      So yeah, that's why it's so important :D By the way, do you like the sound of my story?

    3. Wow! I love the idea of a mute apprentice physician.

    4. Your MC sounds really cool! I would love to read her!

    5. Thank you, Anonymous!! Here's what I've come up with in my four categories.

      Medicinal plants:
      Sweet violet: colds, flu, coughs, headaches, muscle pain.
      Feverfew: rheumatism, arthritis, also reduces swelling/bruising.
      Ginger: indigestion.
      Lavender: skin disorders.
      Yarrow: poultices for wounds, rashes, burns.
      (I may give them different names.)
      Then of course, there is the fireplant in the Forest. Every one of its flowers each has the power to reverse curses, and but is nothing more than a legend now.

      Magic: The prince a descendant of a star, and has the power to create and hold fire in his bare hands. There is also a gypsy-witch, who can read fortunes, cast powerful curses on whomever she wishes, and jump off of crazy heights without being hurt.
      There's also a Dark Forest, which has all sorts of spells cast over it by a Lady Aran. She totally controls the forest and the weather around it and whoever enters it. Also, she has an enormous blue talking reindeer that she rides. It can run four times as fast as a horse. She's a really cool side-character :P

      Geography: My little world is a valley country. The town and the surrounding villages are in the valley. Up in the hills to the north is Friel Palace, where the queen lives. Beyond the hills are the Ice Wall Mountains, and beyond that are where the fierce northern giants live. They frequently try to come over the mountains to steal the farmers' livestock. When the story starts, the prince is away fighting these giants. And to the East, you have the Black Forest, which as I said before, is enchanted (like, big time) by the Lady Aran. To the West and South are fields of wild plants and streams and so on, which is where the physician goes to get his medicine plants. He doesn't trust anyone else to do it for him :P Until Kaia comes along. Of course.

      Culture: This land is set in a Medieval-type-era, so they wear that sort of clothing, ride horses, shoot bows&arrows, crossbows, etc. Ballads and songs of that nature are very important to the people. They are extremely good dancers. Bonfire dances in the village are highly anticipated and important events. The people are mainly farmers. The town has an inn, a bakery, a blacksmith, and other shops.

      What do you guys think? Is there anything I should add? :)

    6. That's cool! My mom makes herbal medicines, so I know a little bit about that kind of stuff. Garlic is great for infections, btw. :)

    7. Ah yes! Thank you! That's very helpful :)

    8. This sounds awesome, Rosie! Great work! One thing to keep in mind for magic is to make sure every magic has a cost/weakness to keep it from becoming too powerful.

    9. Yes! Thanks for reminding me! I've got some ideas about that actually :)

  8. I've got my four! My novel takes place on earth's major cities not too far in the future!

    Current day conflicts

    This should be fun :)

    1. What kind of current day conflicts?! Semi-futuristic settings are pretty cool with all the mini changes and slight differences, yet so familiar!

    2. I was thinking, with all the new technology (maybe including mind-reading and manipulation of reality, like building skyscrapers with your mind) of the future, there may be tensions between certain countries and alliances. So, new ways to commit crimes, and new privacy boundaries to surpass.

      One conflict is between the authorities and the criminals, while on the global scale, certain countries threaten cyber warfare.

      My semi-futuristic cities will keep their unique qualities from present day, but the introduction of new technologies will create new monuments and famous buildings.

      In the news of my novel's world, a new criminal underground that deals with psychological and cyber warfare is a real threat to the authorities and the world at large due to their mastery of mind-technology. Some countries are actually working behind everyone else's backs and making deals with these criminals.

    3. Thanks Jason, thanks Jill!

      I'm coming to a roadblock with crime and espionage. (This is the point where this teen writer's Google Search history becomes bizarre, if it weren't already!) I'm not a criminal or a spy, and all I can think of doing are looking at retired police and detective blogs, documentaries and the history of espionage throughout the centuries. Getting research interviews with spies and criminals are both out of the question, and I'm fairly sure that detectives and police can't talk to the general public about their work.

      Are there any other resources I should look into? Any questions I should be asking as a starting point?

  9. My novel is a spy story, so here's the four I chose.

    Espionage (Sorry, Mya! It just fit my novel so perfectly, I just had to use it! ;)

    1. Espionage is such a fun word, I should use it more often!

    2. You're writing a spy story too? Cool!

      I agree. Even the sound of it is fun. Espy- uh - nage

      Mysterious. Secretive. General awesomeness.

    3. Nice! Espionage is a fantastic word...

  10. Environment
    Mine is a fantasy story.

  11. probably Crime and Goverment, but near the end of the book it changes for the rest of the series.
    Crime: MC is a master thief, but he must steal the Kings Gem from another mysterious thief in order to earn back the trust from his only friend.

    Government: The king of Iroloth has put together a secret group, of unique individuals to find his stolen gem.

    1. Will your government be a regular monarchy? If you wanted to, there are some interesting twists you could look into with different governments that have kings.

  12. My story decided to change genres :D. I can't quite decide whether it's fantasy, dystopian or sci-fi right now ... but anyways. Here's my list of some storyworld elements that I think fit my story:

    Physical and/or mental abilities (my MC is an elf with special abilities), race (elves are thought of as monsters), civilization, supernatural.

    I could probably add more, but it's already getting long :).

    1. My MC is an elf too, though considered a monster for other reasons.
      And my thing is also getting pretty long, so I started thinking up another character so my elf one dosent steal all my ideas.

    2. Your MC is an elf who is considered a monster too? That's cool :D. In my story, elves are considered monsters because of their physical and mental abilities, and the government had set up certain facilities where the elves are put into comas and locked away.

    3. That sounds really awesome.
      My MC is considered a monster because he is a thief and he has the ability to control shadows.

    4. Sweet, Savannah. Sounds very cool.

  13. I've got mine!
    1. Creatures/fauna: I'm going to research artic creatures, as well as create my own. I also need to develop my dragons.
    2. Old Norse culture: I'm going to look into Viking culture, because that's what my tribe is inspired by.
    3. Magic: I've downloaded your magic worksheet and I'm working on the different types of magic in my world.
    4. Mythology: I'll mostly create my own, though I'll draw a lot of inspiration from Norse mythology. I've started reading the Edda (Elder and Younger).

    1. That is awesome, Esther! You are going to get tons of inspiration. Way to go, you!

  14. That's so kewl:) I love Norse mythology!

  15. Using the 'setting sum': 900-1000 A.D. + small subjected country on the northern coast of the Black Sea + tensions between conquered and conqueror empire, between religions + stone and brick architecture, pre-medieval fashions + simple technology, but cleverly managed + flatlanders, mountain folk, and conquerors + mountains, frozen river, fortresses, villages, cities, palace + accents = setting.

    As for things to study: (1) ancient astrology (not the crude fortune-telling kind, but the kind where the sky was both a map and a clock, full of constellations that reminded one of certain truths)

    (2) religious practices and tensions in a place which has one foot in Christianity, the other in Asian superstition, and residual Greco/Roman influences.
    (3) historical trends in regards to empires (how they ruled their conquered peoples, what made them strong, what made them weak) and how conquered nations threw off an empire's yoke.

    1. This sounds really neat, Savannah! I'm especially intrigued by the ancient astrology.

  16. The essential elements for mine would probably be medicine, disease, religion and fairy stories.

    1. Very interesting! I'm having so much fun reading about all your stories!

  17. Family, mental-physical abilities and numbers. Not sure if the last one counts. Also my story is a contemporary fantasy. It starts off in a contempory setting(Sydney- I grew up there and think it suits my character) but the MC later finds herself in a magical maze. What posts do you recommend?

    1. Interesting, Corgi. Why numbers? Tell me more about that. Also, do you know what the special abilities are?

      As to posts I recommend, these two might help:

    2. Yes. One can turn invisible, one is telepathic and another cantravel in time. Those a just a few.

      Also, the first book in the series takes place on the MC's 12th birthday (It's middle grade). She's born on the 29 of febuary, and since she only has a birthday every 4 years, it's big for her. And, her younger twin sisters also have a birthday on the same day. In fact, everyone with the special abilities are. Number come into play a lot, but I don't think I'd have to research them.

  18. I know that along with creating storyworlds, we need to have a certain lingo as well, right? For example, in The Lunar Chronicles, the characters often exclaim "Stars above!" Will there be an upcoming post on this? And if not, are there any tips you can give for creating lingo like that?

    1. You don't have to have a lingo, but it can be a lot of fun. I wrote some posts that might help. Here they are:

      Creating Your Own Language:

      To Swear or Not To Swear:

      Using Dialect:

      Names Your Can't Pronounce:

    2. Thank you so much! Looking forward to reading more posts!

  19. My story is set in a Gothic/Victorian fantasy world and the main place is a boarding school. So my four are:
    The magic
    The religion
    The school
    And the hidden universe

    I can't wait to get started, thanks so much for this post!

  20. Okay...sorry this is so late! I just made a MAJOR last-minute change and decided that I'll be writing a completely different book! It's somewhat of a re-write of the very first book I ever wrote, except this time, I'm not making every character into a stereotype. It's a contemporary but I'll need to know about:

    Boarding school life (I'll probably draw out a campus map)
    Middle Eastern/Indian culture
    Pacific Northwest geography/culture
    Events (Those that take place at the school, such as orientation)

    Maybe the last one doesn't exactly count since I'm from the Pacific Northwest, but I will need to be spot on when I'm describing the geography, otherwise my fellow Oregonians will never forgive me :-)

    1. For some reason it put my reply below lol! Sorry:)

  21. Starting a new project is always exciting! It's a good thing you can draw from your personal experience to help you! How does your book involve Middle Eastern/Indian culture? I'm curious ...

    1. One of my secondary characters (who, at this point, remains unnamed) is Middle Eastern or Indian (I'm not 100% sure yet...) Basically, her parents are immigrants to America and they own an up-and-coming Middle Eastern (or Indian...) restaurant. This character grew up in the rich food culture AND her family is pretty traditional. To top things off, her grandparents recently joined the rest of the family in the U.S. They are disappointed at how "Americanized" this character has become and are attempting to re-introduce her to her heritage. So, in general, I'm going to need a general knowledge of all things Middle Eastern/Indian...oh, boy :-)

  22. government: My story is ruled by government and royalty so something I'll need to research
    hierarchy: There's some form of this in my story, I need to work out what it is what I do know is that the top is the royals and the government.

    communication: There are loads of ways to communicate, speech...Letter....Or you could just communicate with your thoughts. I need a why they can or a how for this though which I'm sure I'll figure out.

    physical and/or mental abilities: Peaople can communicate via thoughts but no one can penetrate someones mind, they have to project their thoughts. If any of that makes sense? I'm not sure how to explain this yet. I need a why they can or a how for this one too.

    So I might have to include something like science, so seen as it's set in the future and in more or less a fantasy place? Maybe these humans could have evolved into being able to communicate that way?

    I'm really not sure, I'm just kind of brainstorming this. I have vague plot and that's about it.

  23. Current-day conflicts: My MC leads a rebellion to regain the throne, while my antag (the king) is fighting to keep others from taking it. A third faction, hidden in the middle of the antag's own country makes the plot more twisty-turvy as more people fight to fulfill their own personal agendas.

    Geography: Eliana (MC) has to travel across half of the country (which is made of islands) in order to reach the capital. Ships, horses, wagons... I guess this might also count as transportation...

    Mythology/Creatures: She leads an army of mythological/legendary creatures.

    My other two POV's would have a lot to do with military, social classes, and city life.

    Wow. I have a lot to research... again.

  24. What's a good way for a young author to find their own writing style?