Plotting #3: Case Study – How Not To Take Over The World

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2.

Way, way back when I was a very newbie writer and had never completed more than the very occasional short story, I was part of a critique group on Critique Circle. We went through a stage of doing weekly short story challenges that actually started as a way to teach me specifically how to write short stories, because everything I wrote turned into a giant ramble. (Which is not always a bad thing, but I wanted to learn the short story format too. It was super valuable, and I’m still learning, and I have that awesome queue on Critique Circle to thank for it.) I attempted a few novels, but as is generally the case when you’re still figuring this writing thing out, I never got much further than the end of Act 1, which usually equates to around 20,000 words. I have a lot of act ones sitting around from that time period 😉

I can’t remember which year it was and I’m too lazy or busy or whatever to look it up, but one year, NaNoWriMo fever hit Critique Circle – it hits it every year, but this was the first year I noticed, so it’s probable that this was the end of my first year *on* Critique Circle (in which case we are talking 2007, yay coherent reference points!). If you haven’t heard of it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and it’s now an *inter*national novel writing Thing that happens every November (and now in, like, April and July too, or some such) and the goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. For someone who’d never finished more than a short story before and who’d never written more than 20k on any one thing (and that in much longer than a month), it seemed like an insurmountable challenge. I didn’t even know how to PLOT 50,000 words, let alone WRITE them!

Enter the inestimable A. Merc Rustad, who extremely generously donated a plot for my amusement. I came up with the very basic premise, and Merc handed me 25 chapter summaries which, if I wrote 2k for each of them, would net me a 50k novel at the end of November.

Spoiler: I won (meaning I got the 50k), and the novel was terrible.

Also Spoiler: That is NOT the novel you’ll be seeing tomorrow in the plotting video.


Okay so why on earth am I telling you this story if I’m not even going to be talking about that early NaNo book?

Well, I tried editing the story, right–because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you write a novel–only to discover that I’d actually, accidentally, written book 2 in a 3-book series. OOPS. (Alack, this is not the only time I’ve done that, just the first. Oy.) So then in, um, 2009 I think it must have been, I tried for NaNo again and although I didn’t make it, I *did* make it through a sizeable chunk of How Not To Take Over The World, book 1 in that 3-book series (officially abbreviated HNOT). I finished it in the second half of 2010 after writing the first draft of Sanctuary in the first part of the year, and MAN was it FUN. I mean, it was a struggle to finish because for some weird reason Sanctuary, which was the first draft I’d ever flown through, broke my brain and although I forced myself to finish HNOT after that, it was actually yeeeeeears before I was able to write really seriously and quickly again. So bizarre.

Anyway! HNOT was FUN! And beta readers LIKED it! And I even won a comedy contest with some lines from the draft, which was super exciting and validating and all that. Plus, there was a ferret, and the ferret is awesome :3

BUT. The plot was super broken. The MC was a bit off as well, but I pretty much knew how to fix that – I just couldn’t figure out how to fix the plot, because I couldn’t figure out how to structure it. OH LOOK STRUCTURE THAT’S THE THEME OF THE WEEK IT’S ALMOST LIKE THIS WAS PLANNED AH HA.

BUT *BUT*!! Because the Twinny One is a plotting genius, and because I refuse to let go of books once I’m in love with them and thus have been picking at this off and on since I finished it in 2010, we finally, FINALLY found a structural solution earlier this year. And then Life Happened, and I never had a chance to really do anything about it, BUT THEN I went to VISIT LIANA and we PLOTTING THINGS and IT WAS GLORIOUS. (There’s even a song that I’ve promised Twitter, which if I’m feeling brave I might post for you next week.)

So. Tomorrow’s post is the epic 2-hour vid that shows Liana and I fixing the broken plot, and you’ll get to see how the plot ended up fixed. Today, though, the broken plot in all it’s broken glory 🙂

Here’s the plot outline of the original story. There’s one card missing near the end because stitching pics together at midnight is complicated: The missing scene should be right before the card that says Chapter 27, and it’s here.

Some explanations:

THE EYE: This world has a magical field somewhat like a magnetic field surrounding it. The field interacts with the ground at various hotspots around the globe that look like translucent tornados – you can see them best at dawn and dusk. They are pretty much raw power, and in this city, the Council Chambers are built in a ring around them to protect people from accidentally wandering into the Eye and getting decimated. To actually tap into the power of the Eye is unheard of at this point in history.

THE KEY: Deviran (duh-VEER-an) has a magical artefact called the Key that enables the bearer to wield greater than usual power (and do other stuff, but this is the only thing that comes into this story).

EVIL OVERLORD SCHOOL: Is where the story begins. Deviran, the MMC, and Mercury, the FMC, are both students in the process of graduating, as is Chiara, another POV character (the one on the orange post-its that we cut in the video), and Sparky, Mercury’s friend. Each city around the world has its Evil Overlord, but they are mostly scapegoats and tokenistic figureheads these days, pretty much like the British monarchy.

THE DEMONS: There’s something weird going on with the sky in the city – it looks all bulgy and weird-metallicky and there are shapes in it. Some people think it’s just a bizarre magical meteorological thing; others think they are demons who will rain down and wreak havoc. The latter, shockingly enough, are correct. What no one realises until the end, though, is that the demons are actually the tool of a totally mysterious, never-explored villain. Who’s the villain? No clue. What does the villain want? Other than to rain the demons down, I HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE. THIS IS A BROKEN DRAFT AND YOU EXPECT COHERENT ANSWERS??? AH HA HA HA. Ha. Ha ha.

I think that’s all you need to know, but if you have questions let me know and I’ll update this post.

Oh, and because I can, see below for a couple of random snippets from the rough draft of HNOT 😉 Have fun! Tomorrow: FIXING THINGS!!!!!!!


She looked over Sparks’s shoulder. “Oh.” Looks like she wasn’t the only one that had felt the explosion of power: row after row of the translucent violet demons made the street look like the bubble factory had exploded again. Only these bubbles had teeth, and could in all probability kill. “Crap.”

“You could say that.” Sparks stepped around her and pressed against her, back to back again. “So. Any big plans?”

“Er, run?”

“In which direction, precisely?”

Mercury twisted her head around, stomach sinking as she realised they were completely surrounded. “Um, up?”


“We need your assurances that you won’t try to… liberate the Key.” Deviran raised an eyebrow.

Mercury folded her arms across her chest and narrowed her eyes. “And why would I agree to that?”

“Because you’re fundamentally a nice person?” Deviran tried.

Chiara snorted and Mercury had to admit, she had a point. Deviran ought to know better than to try a long shot like that.

“All right,” he said, raising his hands disarmingly. “I can see I’m outnumbered here. Because we need you to, then. Because we’ll make it worth your while.”

Mercury practically felt her face light up, and struggled against it. “Is that so. How, precisely?”

Deviran shrugged. “However you like, within reason.”

“Deviran,” Chiara warned. “I don’t think–”

“Really?” Mercury cut in. “Anything?”

“Within reason.” He leaned forward, meeting her eye, perfectly blank.

“Leave town?”




“Pretend to die and never let anyone see you again?”


Plotting #5: It’s A Wrap

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2Day 3 and Day 4.

Whoa, day 5 of plotting! So pretty much all I’m going to do today is provide a quick wrap-up, including an overview of the main points discussed in yesterday’s video. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, besides the live demo of actually fixing the plot of HNOT, here are the key ideas we discussed:

1) Amy says ‘really’ too much.

2) Post-it notes are an awesome tool for visualising the plot of your novel all at once. You can use colours to track points of view (POV), subplots, and more.

3) Liana’s Plot Sheet lists: 3 antagonists; 4 plot twists; opening, ending and climax; ticking time bomb; emotional/thematic statement; thematic concepts; colours; dominant imagery and shapes. See below for a template!

4) It’s okay to write your way into the plot in a draft, but make sure you attend to this in edits.

5) This post-it note visualisation is a process you can do either before or after writing your draft – it can be planning or revision depending on your preference.

6) Your starting scene not only sets the tone for your novel, it also sets the ‘rules’ for your series if you’re writing one. If you start with a character scene, you’re establishing the series as character-focused, and readers will expect to stick with your main character/s for the whole series. You *can* deviate from this, but it’s just not what your readers will be expecting. If you start with a more world-focused scene, on the other hand, readers will subconsciously expect a world-focused series, and you can get away with switching main characters more easily, because you can introduce a starting motif that helps the reader settle into the book and makes it feel like ‘home’ (something that seeing the same character in a new situation would usually do).

7) Establish all POV characters early on and make sure they’re proactively doing things and making choices.

8) Antagonist 1 is your lover in an enemies-to-lovers story – twist 1 brings them in to be an ally.

9) Look for weak conflict (too many conversations is a clue), and weak POVs – is the information learned in one character’s scenes repeated when other characters learn it? Is this POV absolutely necessary?

10) Establish the powers/rules/physics of your world, especially if it’s magical, as early on as possible. Readers need to know what’s possible, especially if things are possible in your world that aren’t in real life.

11) Characters need a scene goal, something that is motivating them to act, something that they are trying to achieve – they can’t just be reacting to everything around them (you can write reaction scenes, but keep an eye on what their goal still actually IS, because they HAVE one, even if it’s just, ‘survive’).

12) Villains always feel like they are the hero of the story, and always think they are smart – they do get caught because they make mistakes, but THEY think they are right and smart.

13) To be a hero, you have to have a villain.

14) Everyone in your story wants something. The antagonist is the person standing in the way of that something, whoever that person might be (and it can change from scene to scene).

15) Character motivation is a common missing ingredient in the work of new writers.

16) If you need to write long sentences to explain what’s happening in the scene, you might have too much going on or a lack of clear focus. You should be able to identify a clear protagonist, antagonist (not always a person), conflict and twist or climax in one short sentence. (A made-up example could be, “Mercury fights her way through the demons to get to the Key, only to discover it’s gone.” Mercury is the protag, who obviously wants the Key; the demons are the antags, who probably want her dead; the conflict is in the verb ‘fights’; and the twist/climax is that when Mercury gets there, the Key is gone.)
17) If a character already has or gets a new skill in the book, it must come into play – akin to Chekov’s gun (if you show a gun on the wall, it better go off in the next three chapters, or else don’t show it to begin with). Remember though that ‘coming into play’ can also mean establishing a clear expectation about the character the item/skill belongs to, not just literally using that item (though this is the easier path).

18) Don’t end chapters with going to bed, work, etc – end with a hook a la the Nancy Drew Hardy Boys series, which often ends chapters not with the door opened to reveal a monster, but with the act of the door still opening.

19) Readers love minor characters – give them genuine wants and needs and make them smart and funny.

20) The best POV characters are the ones who know the least and have the most to lose.

21) Sometimes the character who knows the least is the one who thinks they know the most.

22) Throwing in a random POV scene can be jarring, so make sure you set the book up to be ‘that kind’ of book.

23) If ever you get lost and don’t know where you’re going, aim for twists. OR,

24) If you can’t plot a whole story at once, just plot to the first twist. Write that, then figure out what comes next and plot to the next twist. Rinse, repeat, and you’ll end up with a complete story 🙂

25) Don’t be tempted to think that the first time your character wins their goal is the ending of the story. They also have to deal with the fallout of getting what they want, which means the bad guys will be after them, and they will have to dispatch the bad guys one by one from smallest to largest.

26) A strong lead up to the climax is having your MC face down the Big Bad (Antag 3) and fail.

27) You’re perfectly allowed to make answers up on the spot, but just make sure that you do end up with the answers.

28) Liana makes a valid point: knocking people unconscious IRL can actually cause massive trauma to the brain. Use unconsciousness sparingly!

29) Romances work better if your hero rescues your heroine rather than knocking them out 😉 😀

30) Moment of despair is when everything is stripped away from the character and they find out what their core power and motivations are. They realise who they are when everything else is taken away, and that they have the strength to fight on regardless. This is why the moment of despair is so important, because it’s your character’s ultimate commitment to their course of action, right before the climax of the story. It’s essentially the climax of their character arc, which then allows them to achieve the climax to the plot arc.

31) Your first few novels are going to be messy: You’re learning how to write, you’re learning your voice, you’re learning what your style of plotting is. The good news is, editing is a learned skill. You can learn to edit. And don’t forget that content edits and line edits are very different skills.

32) Realistic expectations are just as vital in a writing career as in everything else. You’re on YOUR track to writing, and it will take as long as it takes. Some people might be faster – but some people will also be slower, and you are who you are. The sooner you make peace with that, the less stressful your writing apprenticeship will be. (General figures thrown around are 10 years and/or a million words to reach genuinely publishable quality writing.)

33) To reiterate: post-it notes are an awesome way to make the plot of your novel more comprehensible as a whole. Having it all physically visible in front of you is the best way to test pacing, character balance, subplot balances, and so forth. Try it!

34) When in doubt, kill a fictional character. That’s sound advice for any problem, right there.

And that’s it! Don’t forget to check out the earlier posts if you haven’t already to collect all the resources. Thanks for stopping by – if this was useful to you at all, leave a comment, and send the link to a writing buddy – if you liked it, they probably will too 🙂
Until next time!

Plotting #4: Live Replot

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here! There’s also Day 2 and Day 3.

Today, the climax this has all been building towards. A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to able to visit Liana in Alaska (!!!!), and while I was there, Much Plotting Occurred. We plotted 6 novel/las that week, I think, mostly mine, and plotting so many stories in such a short space of time was *really* beneficial for my plotting skills. As well as the simple repetition of skills, it was also amazing to stick everything up on post-it notes on the wall and conceptualise the whole plot at once. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a handy door/wall/vertical space to stick post-it notes on for extended periods of time (since my writing time is extremely sporadic during the school term) and so I’d fallen out of the habit.

Anyway, we were fifteen minutes into replotting How Not To Take Over The World (officially abbreviated to HNOT) when we realised that we were actually covering A LOT of stuff that would be really useful to other writers – so we stopped, set up the computer, and filmed the whole session for you 😀 It’s totally uncut (except the brief pause in the middle where we stopped to get water and snacks) and live and messy and glorious and we’re both in our pyjamas looking TOTALLY UNGLAMOROUS, but if you can deal with that, there is some really useful plotting information here. Plus, weird accents. Yay! 😀

A couple of things to note if you didn’t read the summary yesterday:
1) Read the summary from yesterday. The video will make a lot more sense. HA.
2) The video is filmed in mirror image, so the post-its go right to left (sorry!).
3) We dive right in to talking about The Key. In this story, which you’ll know if you read yesterday’s summary, the Key is a magical artefact, a highly powerful object enabling the wielder to use vast quantities of magical power.
4) At 11 mins 30 sec I mention the Deviran backstory story – you can read The Making Of An Overlord here on the D&G blog.
5) At the end I note that I’m going to do a beat check. All that involves is running through my beat sheet (see Day 2) and making sure that the scenes I have match up to the required beats – though it won’t be a one-to-one correlation because I ended up with 47 scenes and the beat sheet allows for 40. Nonetheless, the novel did have all the necessary beats in about the right places once we were done. Yay! Success!

And if you want to follow along, you can grab the original plot we were working with in yesterday’s post, and you can see the final revised plot here 🙂

Tune in tomorrow for our final plotting recap 🙂

Plotting #2: Beat Sheets

Missed out on Day 1 of Plotting? Catch up here!

Okay, so, yesterday I confessed to you my secret nightmare as a writer: structure. Not because I resent being constrained by arbitrary rules or whatever, but because actually, after reading a crap-tonne of new-writer stories in the last ten years, I have a healthy appreciation for a well-structured story and I’m *just* *not* *GOOD* at it myself. Which, URGH. I’m an English teacher and a writer and I have *experience* with these things and I read a lot and I know what good structure looks like, so why, why, WHY is this whole structure/plotting/pacing thing not more intuitive for me? Seriously?! Gnurgh.

Anyway. The turning point for me was the discovery of beat sheets. Beats are nothing more or less than those points you have to hit in a structure – like, there’s a call to action at the end of act one, a turning point in the middle, a climax at the end – that sort of thing. But those three or five or eight or twelve beats never seemed to be enough for me to keep up the pacing in between times, and not meander around in a way that left the conflict dragging. Oh, the scenes are FUN and PRETTY and SHINY and often also even WITTY, but they still… meander.

And look: I’ve nothing against meandery books. I like lit. fic., or at least as much of it as I do most genres. I appreciate character-driven, wandery sorts of stories. But I also know that you have to be a really good writer to pull them off in a way that makes them accessible for public consumption, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my primary goal here is to write stories that people actually want to *buy*. I write for myself, because if I didn’t I’d get so twisted up in anxiety that I wouldn’t write at all (why hello there, 2012-2013). But I want the end results to be accessible for other people to *enjoy*. There’s that saying, right: I write for myself and revise for my readers. Yup, good idea right there. Except thus far my revisions have always been nightmarish slogs of retrofitting structures and proper character arcs to Really Broken Drafts, and quite frankly, that process sucks. If I can learn to do my structure/pacing/plotting/character arc right the first time, I’ll save hundreds of hours in revision – and once you know the rules, THEN you can choose to break them at will.

Hence, beat sheets.

First came Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, a book on writing screenplays that delves into structure and the different ‘genres’ that movies actually fall into. I highly recommend the book, if only for the reconsideration of how genre applies to stories, and how knowing what genre you’re actually writing can change the way you look at the book – and you’ll be surprised by the genres and their definitions, too, because it’s not about the trappings and cosmetics and setting of the story, but rather the plot/character arc and the beats that the story needs to hit.

Secondly, Jami Gold’s amazing free beat sheets, based on the information in Save The Cat and another book I haven’t read, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’d tried to make something like this for myself years ago and failed, so when I found these I was super excited.

And finally, something I wrote up myself based entirely on Jami’s beat sheets just recently – while I was visiting Liana, in fact. I got sick of using the calculator in Jami’s sheets to calculate when things were supposed to happen, and on the basis that I was pretty much aiming for a 40-scene, 80k novel or a 20-scene, 40k novella each time, I wrote up this beat list, which tells me which scene number each thing is supposed to happen in. As you’ll note, nearly every scene has a specific job, and knowing that has made a HUGE difference to my ability to keep the pacing of the story on track.

By way of experiment, I also used the novella sheet to plot out a novella while I was with Liana. It made the whole plotting process just like putting together a jigsaw, and while I’m sure there will still be things to fix and tweak, it’s the first time I’ve delivered Liana a plot and had the tick of approval with only a minor tweak or two. YAY ME I AM LEARNING THINGS WATCH ME LEARN. You can evaluate the success of this process yourself hopefully next year – this novella is one in my Puricorn (Age of Unicorns) universe (see short stories here and here) and I have a cover for it ready to go… I just need to write and edit it >.< 😀

Anyway. I hope that some of these resources are useful for you! Feel free to share some of your favourite plotting resources in return, and tune in tomorrow for an epic case study: How Not To Take Over The World!

Plotting #1: My Biggest Flaw As A Writer

Being an English teacher is good for my writer ego. I used to think that probably I was just *stupid* for all the beginner mistakes I made – but going on seven years of high school* English teaching where students usually have to complete one creative response per semester, I’ve marked over 1100 creative responses that have been predominantly written by ‘new writers’ – and I’ve learned that my mistakes weren’t actually mine after all, they were just ‘new writer’ mistakes. Woohoo. Go me. Etc.

* That’s Years 7 – 12 in Australia. 

However. There’s one issue that really *ought* to be a new writer mistake that I’m really struggling to break myself from in my writing. I know better – by golly I do – and I even know the solution. But I’m only *just* getting to the point after ten years of seriously attempting this writing thing, and about a million words of fiction (whoa, I hit my million some time 6 – 12 months ago, that’s cool! I only *just* figured that out right now, for this post!), where I can remember that this is a problem I need to proactively fix *before* I write my story – because MAN, retrofitting this problem SUCKS.

So what’s the problem, then?


(This is the #1 reason you still haven’t seen my novel Sanctuary, despite me talking about it off and on for, you know, my entire previous life >.< The character arc started about a third of the way in, the structure meandered, and OH MY WORD trying to retrofit a proper character arc and structure into the thing is giving me FITS. *FITS*, you guys. **FITS**.)

I remember clearly my university writing professor saying to the whole class of us: “There’s no doubt you can all string a pretty sentence together, but can you tell a *story*?” He was talking about structure, because although we had things to say and could say them in pretty ways, almost the entire class of us – and most of my students – struggle to put things together in a way that builds a correct story AND character arc at the same time.

If my big problem was structure, why am I calling this series ‘Plotting’? Because the two are intrinsically linked; if you know structure, your plot will flow more easily and resonate better as a complete, satisfying thing with readers.

So with that in mind, here are some Structure 101 resources 🙂

This is a powerpoint I walk my students through that goes through the basics of structure and provides a few different options – three act, five act, 8-point and hybrid.

And this is a worksheet on the Hero’s Journey structure with prompt questions for each stage (see also this thread for an excellent discussion on the western-male-centricness of the hero’s journey concept).

Tune in tomorrow for the tool that made structure achievable for me – Plotting #2: Beat Sheets!


How To Dialogue

Dialogue punctuation is something I really harp on about to my students, because there are a lot of rules in fiction, and you can break every single one of them if you have a good reason – except dialogue. Yeah, okay, I know there are some big-name authors out there who DO break the rules of dialogue punctuation and paragraphing, but essentially, I tell my students, the rules of dialogue punctation and paragraphing are unbreakable, because they exist to make things clear to the reader. You want your ideas to be clear, right? Yes, yes you do. *ahem*.

So anyway, in conversation with the Twinny One, I realised I’d never shared my dialogue videos with you before. So I’ve set up a special new page: you can click here to go to Dialogue 101, where there are three videos that step you through all the finicky ins and outs of how to punctuate and paragraph dialogue correctly, as well as the difference between beats and tags, and how to use them 🙂

LOST WOLF (Cool Book) + American Travel + Giveaway

Heya! Just popping by on my way to America to–

Wait, what? AMERICA?!?!

Oh, yeah. Didn’t I tell you that? I’m pretty sure I mentioned it on Twitter at least (once, or twice – a day… O:))… SO. I’M GOING TO AMERICA. LIKE, TOMORROW.* WHOOOOOOOOOA!!! I’m visiting the glorious Krista Ball for two nights, then heading up to the freezing wastelands of Alaska to see the twinny one, Liana Brooks. I’ll also get to meet up with Thea van Diepen, newly of Darkness&Good fame, as she generously plays airport taxi for me :o) SO. MUCH. EXCITEMENT!!

But in the meantime, I just thought I’d pop by to share a cool-sounding book with you 😉 (ALSO THERE IS A GIVEAWAY AT THE END YAY GIVEAWAY + BOOKS!)

* Where tomorrow = Saturday, because I’m pre-writing this so it’ll go up at the right time for the author, which is while I’m on a plaaaaaaaaaane! So in this case, tomorrow actually means yesterday, or something something something. Time. *wavy hands*. Yeah.

Lost Wolf by Stacy Claflin

Isn’t the cover glorious?!?!

She’s hiding a dark secret. It already killed her once.

Victoria can’t wait to start college, but there’s a hitch—she can’t remember anything before arriving on campus. Her memories spark when she sees her ruggedly handsome math professor, but she senses something horrific. The shock on his face affirms her fears.

Toby is an alpha wolf who never thought he’d see his true love again—not after she died in his arms. Nothing could have prepared him for her walking into his class. But to his dismay, not only has she forgotten what happened, she doesn’t even know who she is.

He’s determined to do whatever it takes to restore what they’ve lost. Can Toby help Victoria recover her memories, or will he lose her forever?

If this sounds like something that might interested you, check it out in your favourite online bookstore (Amazon, B&N, iBooks, Kobo). ALSO! If OTHER books are things you are interested in, you can enter below for a $50 Amazon gift card, open internationally! WOO BOOKS! WOO INTERNATIONAL! WOO **INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL**!!!!!!!

…Yup, I think that’s my sanity used up for the day. Sorry ’bout that. Still. Go enter the giveaway. $50 of books = yay, amirite? 🙂

a Rafflecopter giveaway

How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 5: Hot and Cold, Wet and Dry

So, a while ago I started the map-building series as a backlash against All Those Authors that get it Wrong, and as an attempt to prevent that happening in the future. I’ve talked about the very fundamental stuff – the underlying structure of the world, the fun you can have with hotspots and volcanos – and have developed a few rules to keep you on the right track:

– Lesson #0 in Map-Building: Always have a reason.
– Lesson #1 in Map Building: The mountains are where things crash together. So are the volancos and the earthquakes.
– Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.

Today, we’re going to move on to above-surface stuff, and look at the basics of climate. Two things form the fundamental basis of all climate: temperature, and precipitation. You can get hot dry climates (like deserts), hot wet climates (like rainforests), warm dry, warm wet, temperate regions that have four distinct seasons and varying rainfall in each, cold wet climates, cold dry climates, climates that are prone to snow and forms of precipitation other than plain rain.

Your plain average rain, however, isn’t really plain or average. It can be pure or acidic to various degrees, it can be cold rain or warm rain, come in torrential downpours or gently soaking drizzle. Acidic rain is found in areas of high pollution or places downwind from high-pollution areas; pure rain is often found in low population density areas, but not always, because these places can be receiving pollution from other areas. Torrential rain is most usually found in the tropics; hurricanes need the right mix of airflow and water; thunderstorms need a cold front meeting a bank of warm air; drizzle often accompanies lower temperatures; and so the list goes on.

You can get so caught up in the fascinating minutia of weather – well, at least, I could – that you forget your story is actually supposed to ever be anything more than an excuse to build a really spiffy, perfectly logical world. I don’t recommend this.
The amount of worldbuilding you DO want to do is up to you, but remember:
1) More worldbuilding makes your world seem more real.
2) Most of your worldbuilding won’t make it directly into your novel, so it can be a waste of time.
and most importantly,
3) ALL worldbuilding should serve one aim: to increase conflict in your story. If you can’t think of a way for it to increase conflict, you’re pretty much wasting your time.
I mean, sure, it’s important to know what kind of clothes your MC wears, and whether or not their society could actually legitimately make silk stockings – but this all matters a lot more to your reader if it’s in some way related to the conflict, like your MC needs to masquerade as an aristocrat from another country only can’t get her hands on the kind of stockings they wear, or something. Be creative. Make it matter.

And so to round off on climates: Do know your climate, because it will affect how your people live. More on that later. But don’t feel you need to obsess. Most climates exist in most regions of the world, with the exception being the poles and the equator. Mountain ranges or lack thereof, ocean currents and whether they are hot or cold, costalness or continentality, prevailing winds – these are the four key things that will determine your climate. But really, weather is so complicated that even now we can’t accurately predict it more than about four days out. So you know. As long as your climate is within the bounds of plausibility, most readers won’t try to kill you for them.
With one exception. Please, please, please, don’t try to make your poles hot and your equator cold for no reason better than ‘to be different’. This will result in you being hunted down and smacked over the head with some basic physics.
Because the poles are, by the very nature of a ROUND planet, further away from the sun. The equator is closest. Ergo, unless you have some sort of fancy magic field that reverses the effect of the sun, your poles will be colder and your equator hotter.
And, for the love of peace, please have a round planet unless you’re writing fantasy and have a deliberate reason for not making it so (and making it, say, a Disc carried by elephants on the back of a turtle). Gravity + spinning = round world.
Note also that it’s the TILT of the earth’s axis that gives us seasons; straight axis, no seasons. Bear that in mind when designing both round planets and especially non-round planets. If you’re not round and/or you have no tilt, will you have seasons, or will your climates be stable?

Lesson #3 in Map Building: In the middle, things are grey and you can do what you like. At the edges, things have a reason. Don’t mess with this, unless you have a very good reason.

Tune in next time for more on humanity’s favourite liquid: water!

How To Build A World From The Ground Up Week 4: And Then It Exploded

I mentioned volcanos very briefly in the last post in this series in talking about where mountains are usually formed. Often, the volcanos appear where one plate is sliding under another, forcing the upper plate even up-er, and providing a weak spot for all that yummy magma and lava to come spewing out. Yay, fire and destruction!

But there is a second way for volcanos to appear, and since it isn’t on a plate boundary, it’s kind of a neat writerly world building trick that’s almost as good as a deus ex machina for getting a volcano and/or string of islands wherever and whenever you want them.

Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Hawaii. Good. Now keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on a map. Keep your hand up if you think you could point to it on THIS map (you can find it if you click on the image to make it bigger).

Found it yet? Okay. Question. Is it on a plate boundary?

Hopefully, we agree on the location of Hawaii, and you’ve said no. Excellent. So, Hawaii is a chain of islands with both active(ish) and extinct volcanos – and it’s in the middle of nowhere, not actually near a plate boundary. How does this happen?

One word: Hot spots.

Randomly, some places of the plate will be thinner than others, allowing the magma to break through to the surface even though there’s no plate boundary in sight. This is called a hot spot. If the hot spot is under land (less likely, since the land plate is thicker than oceanic plate), you’ll get a regular volcano; if it’s underwater, you’ll either get an underwater volcano, or if its strong enough, a volcanic island.

But here’s the thing: the plates are moving, right? And some times, the hot spot isn’t caused just by the thinner crust; it’s also mysteriously caused by a literal ‘hot spot’ in the magma underneath. So when the plate moves on, rolling its way from one boundary to another, the hot spot stays behind – and a new volcano appears.

Rinse and repeat, and you get a lovely chain of volcanos/islands, each of which will become extinct as it moves away from the hot spot and a new volcano erupts behind it. So,

Lesson #2 in Map Building: You need to have a reason for where you put things on your map. But you can pretty much invent a reason for anything.

Doncha just love how rules in writing are made to be broken? 😀