Kitty's Writing Toolbox

Moving in time as well as space, this section deals with a lot of progressions, the history of your world and the progression of a life in it.

36. Normative Standards
37. Locations
38. Variation
39. Timeline
40. Outline
36. Develop the normative life experience.

Now flesh out the templates. Give each sentence a paragraph or more worth of description. Start with infancy, how most people are born (in a hospital, in a home, in a convent?), whether or not there is a new birth ceremony such as a baptism or a name-giving, and go on from there. You should continue to have at least three or four templates unless your entire cast list is three or four people long. Even in a single city, different people will have different life experiences and different ideas of what is “normal” for them, depending on race, class, social status, etc.

If you're stuck for what kinds of points in a person's life to describe, consider the biological stages of a sentient being's life first. Get back to some very basic basics. For most sentient beings in fiction, whether mainstream or science fiction/fantasy, there are some simple biological steps shared by all sentient beings. Birth followed by a short period of infancy, then childhood for lack of a better but less obscure term. The period between developing basic motor and communication skills and the next stage, puberty and adolescence. The developing of advanced biological functions such as procreation and advanced communication, strategy, and thinking skills. In other words, teenagerhood. Then the body stops growing and for a variable length of time, you have an adult of the species. Then the beginning of the body's decay as processes function less and less well, and then death. And for each of these stages, humans and other sentient life forms generally create rituals or cultural expectations around them, to explain and assist with the transitions between one stage and the next.

At the end of this exercise you should have several pages worth of an individual's journey from birth to death, three or four variations. Again, you might have more variations depending on the scope of your work, and you might have fewer. All of this goes in the culture section.
Back to the Top

37. Develop places for your characters' youth and childhood

Back to location-based world-building! Back to your maps! Go through your characters' youth and childhood, the typical experiences, and start marking down the places they've been on your map. Even if it's just a dot with a flag. Do the same for the normative templates. Then give each location at least three to five sentence paragraph under the 'Settings' section. Before you were writing about neighborhoods, now you're writing about individual buildings, school houses or malls or stadiums or day cares.

Keep in mind that all of these places have contexts as well. Are these neighborhoods, towns, or even planets nice places to grow up in? Is life hard for children, or are there plenty of families and safety networks to help them out? If you're working with places you've already started to flesh out, you might know this. If you're working with an entirely new section of geography, look at the character and how they grew up and use that as a jumping off point to think about what these places might have been like. Think about who the people who worked there were like. You can even, if you get inspired, write a couple paragraphs about them with the same format as you have for your tertiary characters, your bit parts. World-building in this way is a bit like terraforming (or at least how I imagine terraforming to be, since we can't quite do that yet.) Once you lay down your basic components, all kinds of unexpected things start growing.

Back to the Top

38. Develop variations on the normative experience.

Look at your normative life experience and tweak it. All life plans never come to fruition quite as one either expects or wants, but there are some obstacles that crop up that are predictable. Sudden poverty, for instance, sudden disability or sudden wealth. Take a look at the timeline for the normative experience for this world and pick five to ten points where a person's life might abruptly diverge from the norm. Write several paragraphs based on what you already have written (in that same manner) for each divergence, which also go into culture.

Back to the Top

39. Develop your world timeline

Develop your timeline. By now you've got a lot of events, an outline, and a lot of character history. Use your character history and your outline and your world bible so far to develop a timeline of your world. Use the start of your novel as your zero hour and expand both forwards and backwards, starting with the events you've already set down. How fast is technology developing? How are social attitudes changing? Go back and forth between this timeline and your character information, making adjustments as you need to. This part goes in Setting, because the history also makes a part of the setting.

Keep in mind that sometimes things can change very, very fast. There are people living now in a country where legal racial equality is assumed (though not necessarily fact) who have grandparents who were assumed to be slaves. There are people living now in a country where individual thought and exchanges of ideas are everybody's privilege who grew up in that same country where conformity was demanded. The majority of the population living today grew up before the internet and thus information (true or false) became commonplace, before exchanges of ideas became easier for many, many people (but not everyone).

Keep in mind also that some things change very, very slowly. Look at the Catholic church. Look at Judaic practices. Look at the idea that things and people that are different from us are dangerous and subversive and should be squashed, that idea hasn't changed much in recorded history.

Back to the Top

40. Check in with your outline

Check your outline. How much of this needs to be developed beyond one or two lines? The sad truth is, probably not much. But despite the attention to outlines, this still isn't novel writing, this is world writing. We're building a base for you to go on writing, or let your novel go in whatever direction it needs to. Check your outline, see what you have that you've developed, see what you don't have. Be aware of how much time you're spending on things you'll never put into your novel. Don't do any writing right now, just organize your thoughts, because after all that it'll be pretty chaotic.

Back to the Top

<< Part 7   ||   Part 9 >>