Kitty's Writing Toolbox

On to some broad-spectrum details! Will there be magic? Will there be technology? How diverse or rich or poor or varied is the population of this world? Don't forget to keep your outline in mind!

6. Technology
7. Economics
8. Magic
9. Culture
10. Diversity
6. Determine your technology level.

This may seem complicated, but it really isn't. Go back to your outline. Look at all the scenes or, if you don't have it scene-by-scene yet, all of the acts, or the general progression. Write down five items of technology you will need for each section, whether it's a Simple Machine or a cell phone or even something in the background that may never be referred to in the text itself. Knowing it's there will help set the scene for you. You can duplicate items if a character's cell phone, chemical camera, or Antykitherian device becomes a plot point, as long as you have those items of technology for each section.

Overall, this should give you an idea of how technologically advanced and oriented your society is. Some societies place more of an emphasis on technology than others. And, looking back at your scope description, you might go through a couple different attitudes. Your item list should reflect that.

There are a number of ways to rate the level of technology available to and pervasive within a society, and you can pick one of those if you like. You can also just have a general idea how advanced your society is from the items you've chosen. However you do it, write at least two paragraphs describing the level of technology in your world. Write at least five if your scope is vast. No more than 1 1/2 pages of material, but you should have a sufficient description of how advanced technology is that someone reading it over can have an idea of what your world looks like in that way. File this in a separate section of your binder or under a separate word document, Resources.

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7. Determine your economic variance.

We'll look at two things when we're determining this: your character's economic background and your outline.

Start scene by scene, and if you're doing this on a grand scale, start only in one city or small country. We'll get to the rest later. On a fresh piece of scratch paper, look at each scene or act or block of outline that takes place in that city or country and jot down two to three sentences about the economic aspect of the setting. Is it an opulent, rich setting? Poor, depressed neighborhood? Somewhere in between? What does it have in terms of resources and what is it lacking? Are people managing a subsistence living or is there a surplus, or is the focus on luxury at the expense of actual stability? That will give you some idea of how varied your work will be and, obviously, how much you'll have to expand your world and your background.

On a separate piece of scratch paper, jot down two or three sentences about the economic background of every character who appears or lives in that city or country. I mean every character. Even the ones you didn't give a name who barely have one or two lines, like Charlie Brown's Teacher or the Cheese on the Head man.

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Now go over all these sentences. In your binder under 'Resources' start a new sheet of paper, this time from the least amount of economic resources and going up. Start with a header of 'Least Resources' and either copy over or clarify (you may find that having to rewrite your notes a couple of times gives you ideas or clarifies your thoughts) all your notes from your scenes and your characters. You can, if you know you'll want to come back to it, highlight the times when your main character's name appears, so it catches your attention. Then go to the next highest, which might be 'Lower Class' or it might be 'Working Class' or it might be another, less politically-loaded term. If you know you want to give your world its own vocabulary, now would be a good time to start; there's always some kind of set of words to describe who has Stuff and who doesn't.

By the end of all of this you should have roughly a paragraph each describing the economic strata you'll be running into in this city or country. Each paragraph should be at the top of its own page (we'll get to why later). Some of it you'll be visiting in the description of the scene you're working on, and some of it will be in the form of assumptions your characters make. Maybe they're used to everyone having a vehicle or mode of non-ambulatory transportation. Maybe they're used to getting medical care when they need it. Maybe they don't take having enough food for granted, but your character's background will shape how they think about and react to what you're throwing at them. It might even help add a scene or two to your work.

8. Magic, Yes or No?

This can be an obvious decision for some novels: mainstream, some mysteries, most crime or pulp novels are overwhelmingly set in a world where magic has no place. Almost all fantasy (now including urban fantasy) novels have magic in some form or another. Still, you should put at least a little thought into whether or not you're going to put magic into your novel, and why. Three to five sentence paragraph, under Summary information. Consider, also, magical realism and the weight some events in your novel might have if you leave it ambiguous as to whether or not it was magic or simply coincidence. This is where your outline comes in handy! You know things like this already, or you know where you need to figure it out.

Inevitably, if you do this long enough for enough different worlds, you will come up with a few problems. As with magical realism example, you'll run into the problem of "I want X but not Y." The easiest thing to do right now is to write that, and then leave several lines and set it aside. Come back to it later. You'll be building up a number of different aspects of the world all at once, they won't all be fully developed one after the other sequentially hitting all the bases A through Z.

The second easiest thing is to ask why. Why this and not that? Why one but not the other. Start writing down reasons, and then reasons for those reasons. See what either looks likeliest or what fits together best, what has the most concrete basis. Start with the first things that come to mind first and what seems to follow logically, and then start thinking outside the box. Again, only a handful of lines for this. We'll go back to it later.

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9. Describe culture

Everyone has culture. Everyone. No human being exists in a vacuum, and if a person lives with even a few other sentient beings, they have a culture. Monkeys, dolphins, and even whales have behaviors for both play and work that are taught from parent to offspring.

The easiest place to start developing your culture here is from your outline. Go through and find the parts where you have to establish character, or the scenes where you have a location or mood to establish. If you don't have plot to move forward, you have a location or mood to establish. Creating some sort of culture or aspects of one gives depth to the world in which your characters move.

On a piece of scratch paper, write one to three sentences for each character-establishing or location- or mood-establishing scene describing some point of the culture in which it takes place or that the point of view characters comes from. This can be episodic media entertainment (tv-series, radio series), single-unit media entertainment, literature, activities, art, architecture, historical re-enactments... anything non-subsistence and unique to that collection of people. You might not put in all of these as a descriptor, you might not even put in half of them. But if your character is casting an eye around a dark alley is he seeing posters for electronic music raves or old playbills for theatre shows? Is she likely to note the CDs on a person's shelves or that the decor of the home is incredibly retro? What kinds of games are people playing in the park? What parts of the body are taboo to show? This goes, unsurprisingly, under 'Culture'

How you organize this section is up to you. You could organize it by arts and entertainment, businesses, sports and activites, or you could get more or less specific. Either way, you'll want to start out with some sub-categories in your culture section, and this is as good a place as any to do it. Sort each point of culture into a sub-category.

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10. Determine diversity

As with before, you need to take a look at how many people you'll be showing your reader, and adjust proportionally. Go back to your outline and scribble in the margins the number of people who have speaking roles in each scene. If you're not down to scene by scene yet, ballpark it.

Diversity means a lot of different things. There's racial diversity, gender diversity, and ability diversity, just to start with the things that can be easily seen. There's also sexual orientation, social or economic class, religion, and so on and so forth. Pick five points of diversity to consider when making the demographics of your characters, and group all the speaking parts into those categories. Try to make these points of diversity relevant to your outline, although some of it will be background information that's never outright stated in the text. Be sure to consider that some categories will have a 'null' field, for example, if a person doesn't own a home or reside in any one place and therefore cannot be a resident of District anything.

Make categories for each of these points of diversity, record three to five sentences describing each one. For example, in this world there are various species of sentient beings, with 'sentient beings' as the overall category. Humans are the dominant category, followed by the fae, Hellhounds, and ghosts. Some other types of creatures such as shades and pixies are of controversial origin, and may be a subspecies of humans or fae, respectively. In X city there are two types of people, the people who live in the city proper, and the people who live in the suburbs but consider themselves as being from the city. In this country the dominant religion is Pastafarianism, but other religions include Discordianism, the Church of the Sub-Genius, and the worshippers of Cthulhu. In this story you have fifty two folk with Stars Upon Thars and thirty-seven plain-bellies.

This, too, goes under culture. And if you find that some of your categories aren't relevant to your outline later on in the writing process, feel free to add some. Don't remove any unless it's to change the nature of the category, because that can always serve as fodder for later stories.

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