New Year, New Start

It’s been just over four months since I’ve posted last, and I’m here to fix that. Before, I was talking about all sorts of different general world building topics, and that was great. I still want to do that, but I need to start over. Four months is a long time to be away from the internet and social media. After four months, I may as well have been a slumbering giant hidden away in the deep hills for centuries. That’s how fast the internet moves.

The main reason I’ve been away is that I’ve been dealing with a lot of personal issues, mostly health related. You see, I have some mental health problems. I’m not diagnosed, but I’m dead certain that I’m bipolar. I can write 10,000 words in a single day and then be so depressed I want to scream for the next week. I can do a thousand or two thousand words steady for three to four months and then crash into a major depressive episode as soon as I’m about to finish the first draft. It makes being steady, stable, and generally functional quite difficult. Writing has always been the way that I am the most stable with this problem, but it’s hard to keep up when the bipolar switches, as I call it when my mood suddenly changes, can happen on the flip of a dime multiple times a day.

Why am I bringing this up in a public setting on a blog about world building? Simple. It’s my blog. It’s my writing, my world building, and my work. Just as when you create your world and write your stories, the issues that you face will go into that. The fears, desires, hopes, and dreams will go into your writing. In a way, my elves are actually inspired by my manic episodes. When I’m manic, I don’t want to sleep. I hate the idea of sleep. I wish to high heaven that I didn’t have to sleep. So I made my elves not have to sleep more than once every five days. I also have so many things that I want to do with my life, so many grand goals that I feel I can’t accomplish in the time allotted to us humans, so I made them live hundreds of years.

Yes, my elves were inspired by my manic fits, and so my own mental health issues, my own problems that keep me from working have been worked into my writing and world building. I realized, though, that my elves were becoming too much of a wish-fulfillment race. They were too perfect, so I gave them the heritage of being descended from gods who are so dark and brutal that they can also be consider demons. There’s more to the dark, brutal heritage of my elves, but I don’t want to spoil Wrath of the Fallen, the novel I’m planning to publish before long.

Essentially, I am going to be coming back, but things are going to be a bit different around here. I won’t just be talking about general world building, but rather about the myth making that goes into it. Culture, art, and society are all founded on shared beliefs, whether they’re moral beliefs, worldview ideas of how the world itself works, or ritual as seen in holidays or religious rites. So, I know I don’t have much to say right now, but here I am.

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I’m Still Here, and I’m Coming Back

Hey, everyone. I just wanted to make a quick update. My family has been dealing with some health issues, but I’m going to be starting up again fairly soon. I don’t really have anymore to say tonight, but I’m planning on showing the process of creating a race and culture by doing it and detailing it here.

Anyway, stay with me, folks! I’m still here.

6 Things You Can’t Learn Without Finishing

Seeing as I’m in the process of revising “Wrath of the Fallen”, this is fairly applicable to me, and something important for all writers out there to remember, whether your world is for a story or a game.

Saga of Menyoral

I finished a manuscript for my third book.

Excited. I’m satisfied with the work (and panicking, because it’s off to the editor, and I can’t help that little niggle of what-if-it-sucks), and so I thought I’d take a few minutes to talk about finishing. Here are six things you can’t learn without finishing your manuscripts. There are more, I’m sure, but these are the ones I can come up with.

1. Pacing

If you’ve never written an ending, you can’t learn how to write a middle. How do you keep pushing? Keep building tension? How do you write a climax? You’ll never know until you write an ending. You can’t go back and study the shape of your work without having a completed piece.

2. Theme

You can decide on theme beforehand, I suppose, but I feel as if what the story is about isn’t always clear until you write…

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A Bit of an Update: Renovations

So, I’m going to take a bit of a break today from talking about world building for an update. I’m planning on renovating the site a bit. Don’t worry, the blog is staying. I’m just going to be adding a few things. We’re going old school 90s style web design. Frames! Garish gif animations of cartoonish clipart! Midi files you can’t turn off!

Uh, no. I hated that web design even in the 90s. I hope it dies.

Seriously, though, I’ll be trying to streamline the look a bit while adding some static pages (read: not blog posts). First of all, there’s going to be a bestiary, a list of the different mythical and legendary creatures out there, including the modern fantasy creatures, each with suggestions on how to incorporate them. They’ll basically be set up like my blog posts, only likely a bit shorter. Yes, I know that other sites have bestiaries and mythical encyclopedias, but they’re all just dry, rote descriptions. What I’m planning is to actually talk about how they might work in your own worlds.

At the same time, I’ll be doing a small encyclopedia of pantheons. It won’t be as extensive as I’d like, simply because there are other sites that do just that, like Encyclopedia Mythica or Godchecker. The first is great for a more scholarly, but often basic, description of myths, legends, gods, and heroes (and a bestiary of its own), whereas the second is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek role call of the different gods throughout world religions. That said, I’ll be expanding the list of links to resources as I go and find more sites that could do better.

Another thing I’m planning is to do reviews, both of the resource sites like I mentioned above and of fantasy and science fiction books. I will look at the aspects of the world of the book, but also the story itself. So, if you have a book coming out that you want me to review, send me a message at @Thomas_B_Austin on Twitter. I’ll just say upfront: I can’t afford to buy the book. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it goes.

Also, if you have fantasy or science fiction artwork for your own world that you want me to display, send me a link. Points go to artistic quality as well as to originality and, you guessed it, interesting world building.

So, here’s a list of the things I plan on having once Cartography of Dreams is updated:

  1. Blog about world building topics and advice. (Same as it is.)
  2. Bestiary of legendary creatures as well as modern fantasy and science fiction.
  3. Pantheon list with articles on deity domains and attributes.
  4. Book reviews with emphasis on world building. (If I can.)
  5. Expanded list of internet resources.
  6. Fantasy and science fiction artwork from around the internet.
  7. A more professional appearance. (Unless you like it as it is.)

Eventually, once I can get some better recording equipment, I’d like to start up a Youtube channel or podcast. All I have right now is the microphone and camera on my laptop. Do you have any suggestions, things I should add in the meantime?

Fatal Flaws

This article isn’t about world building, per se, but it’s still something important to consider when writing your characters. Not only that, but it’s also something to consider when creating a culture and people group. There is no “perfect race”, and even those races that emphasize your personal views should be tempered with flaws, because they’re made of humans.

Saga of Menyoral

From Achilles to Frodo Baggins, all the best literary characters are deeply flawed and truly human, and no matter that they might be hobbits. Today I want to talk about how to bring that to your fiction. By “flawed characters” I mean characters with honest-to-goodness character flaws: things about themselves that hamper them from doing what they need to do.

If you want to build a character who’s flawed in a great, human way, look to his or her strengths first. Maybe you have a confident person in your work. Nobody’s going to deny that confidence is a good thing, but take it all the way out to its extreme and you’ll end up looking at arrogance. This can show up in a number of ways. Maybe the confident character believes that he or she knows best for everyone. Maybe he sticks firmly to the adage, “If you want something…

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Museum Visit: Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama

An important part of world building is research, especially research of the real world. It’s not all about medieval places and faraway planets. Sometimes, what we need is right in our backyards.

Hannah Reads Books

Okay, this one’s kind of cheating. I volunteer here several times a month, so it’s not like I’m going in as a newbie. However, it’s a pretty cool place and it’s worth a visit if you’re interested in the area or any of the topics it covers.

Yes, the sign has the wrong name. Yes, the sign has the wrong name.

The museum focuses on 19th century iron making in the Roupes Valley Ironworks, now in the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. The site is unique because it encompasses several important historical periods. The ironworks operated beginning in 1830, and was later an important battery of charcoal blast furnaces during the Civil War until it was destroyed in Wilson’s Raid. The ironworks in this area eventually gave birth to the Birmingham Iron & Steel District, and Birmingham’s rapid growth based on that industry gave it the nickname The Magic City.

The museum incorporates artifacts from the Tannehill…

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Worldbuilding: Political Geography

I had planned on eventually writing a post about making believable geographies, but this article explains it better than I could have.

My Former Blog

I can’t promise that this will be a weekly series yet, but I want to get it rolling anyway. I’ve wanted to talk about worldbuilding on a regular basis here for months, I just haven’t been able to find the time to do it. A believable setting is essential to fiction. I think of it as one of the big three (believable characters and a compelling plot are the other two). A good setting alone doesn’t get you a good story, but a bad setting will certainly prevent a story from being good. “Worldbuilding” is a term used by some genres (especially sci-fi and fantasy) for the techniques that go into creating a believable setting.

Since my own worldbuilding activities are focused solely on a single fantasy world, that’s where my examples will come from, but many worldbuilding techniques can be applied to other genres. There are lots of ways to…

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Back From Hiatus

It’s been a while since I posted anything, and so I’m going to take a bit of a different approach to writing about conworlding for this post. It’s going to get a little personal here. The reason for my hiatus is simply that I’ve been dealing with some difficult personal issues. I’ll just sum it up with saying that I’ve had some health and emotional issues, depression among them. That said, I haven’t gotten any work done. I haven’t worked on my blog (obviously), I haven’t worked on my book. I haven’t really done anything other than play Facebook games and watch Netflix. Now, I’m not bashing on Facebook games or Netflix, because I’m still doing those things, but they took over my life.

I’ve decided to get back in the game. With some great support from my wife, I’m exercising, starting to be careful about what I eat, and pacing myself in my writing. That brings us to what I want to talk about. World building is pretty time intensive, and sometimes emotionally and mentally intensive. To make a conworld really good, you need to make it yours, and if you’re not doing well, the world you’re trying to make won’t do well. When you’re doing this for a story that you plan on publishing, or for a game you plan to share, this is a problem. When you want to do these things for commercial gain, it’s even worse.

You see, my world is for an epic fantasy series I plan to get published once the first book is done. It’s not just a hobby for me; it’s my life goal to become not just a published author, but a professional novelist. To do that, I don’t just need to create a world for my books; I need to create a world for myself. Reading this, you may just have these things under control, so I you do, just make sure you’re aware that you don’t lose it.

Here’s the deal. I collect disability. I’ve tried working, but my health issues keep me from being able to work in retail, food service, or even an office environment. I can’t drive, either. So, writing is my job, even though I’m not getting paid for it. On that note, this blog is my job too. In the past few months, I’ve fallen into such a rut that I’ve forgotten what was important to me. I’ve forgotten what made my world worth creating.

The world you make is more than just a campaign setting, or a story location. It’s an extension of how you view the world. Utopias are born out of hope, what the world could be or should be, and dystopias are born out of fear, what the world shouldn’t be, but at the same time what they could be. Do you have heroes, or are they tempered with the caution that tells you everyone makes mistakes, screws up, and even commits evil acts while trying to be good? How you view the world is shown in the world you create.

To really make a good, believable, and rich world, you need to actually know how you view the world, and to accept it. My problem has been that I have not been accepting my view of the world. That perspective has been tempered by my disability, and the fact that I have felt ashamed of the fact that I need help has made it so that I tried to make myself so small that I could hide from myself, and so I got nothing done but stewing in my own discontent.

So, here’s the plan. I’m going to start up the blog again, but I’ll do more than that. I can’t exactly advise people on how to make fictional worlds if I’m not going to get my real world in order.

  1. I’m going to watch what I eat more carefully.
  2. I’m going to exercise more, including jogging as much as I can.
  3. I’m going to focus on positive notions, because when the emotional zombies of doubt and self-deprecation grab hold of you, it’s nigh on impossible to do anything.
  4. I’m going to maintain my own personal space at home and when I leave the home.
  5. I’m going to write regularly, because…you know…that’s kind of my job at the moment.
  6. I’m going to keep blogging. I have ideas. I just need to write them.
  7. I’m going to actually work on formalizing my own conworld, because I do need to have it ready for when I write later stories.
  8. I’m going to keep up with building a professional platform and online presence.

Now, like I said, I know this was a bit more personal than you’re all used to, but it needed to be said. When you’re creating a fictional world, make sure your own world is in as much order as you can. Even if you situation is pretty crappy, you can at least take control of yourself, and that’s the world I’m talking about; the world that is you.

Next time, I’ll talk about the world as a character.

Curse Words in Fantasy and Science Fiction

Curse words

In my latest post I mentioned that I’d talk about cussing a bit in relation to world building. Yes, this is an actual issue, and no, I’m not just trying to have an excuse to talk about…well, colorful metaphors. When people get upset, more often than not, they’ll end up using some kind of expletive. If it’s not one of the more R-rated words, it’s likely to be something that evokes the same sound, like “darn” or “shoot” for other words that begin with the same letters. Really, swearing can be very cathartic.

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this. Maybe you don’t care about how your characters talk, preferring to use modern language for your story anyway. Maybe you don’t want them to swear at all, due to your personal moral views. Either way, it’s something to consider. There’s one school of thought that thinks modern expletives in a fantasy story are off-putting, and prefer either nothing at all, or something more suited to the culture. Another, with G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire as a prime example, doesn’t see a problem with modern obscenity. I want to talk a little about both of these and offer up a possible solution to the first.

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