Posts Tagged writing resources

Hey, Let’s Build a World!

When I was in the fifth grade, my teacher frowned on all fantasy books that hadn’t been written by Natalie Babbitt. We read Tuck Everlasting and The Search for Delicious, which were certainly fantastic, but failed to provide a full grounding in the fantasy genre.

This month, my daughter started a unit on fantasy stories in her fifth-grade class, with an integrated curriculum of reading, writing, and analysis. 2019 might have its problems but this, at least, is an enormous step forward. I take this educational unit as a sign of the inroads of respectability the genre has made. And, of course, the great service J.K. Rowling has done for our society.

Pulling fantasy from shadows shines a spotlight, especially, onto the skill of worldbuilding, the construction of convincingly functional settings in which a story can unfold. Although most vital for fantasy, science fiction, and horror, proper worldbuilding provides a canvas that any story can hang upon.

Proper worldbuilding addresses the unseen 90% of the story world that never makes it into a book, the part that hangs below the surface like the bulk of an iceberg, but which has to exist in an author’s mind in order to make the other 10% feel like it’s happening in an actual place.

When setting a story on an alien planet, or on an altered version of our own world, or in a fantasy land with its own laws of physics, I’ve tended to make up the details as I went along. Random bits of geography, weather, culture, history, architecture, cuisine, fashion, governments, and organizations all hung out in my head, on a scribbled map, and in a jumbled file of digital notes. I called this process worldbuilding, once I eventually heard the term, and my stories usually felt like they were set somewhere. But if readers looked too closely, they could see the rivets of a shoddily constructed facade.

Then I had a revelation that my story, set in a specific time and place, with an alternate culture, a huge cast of characters, and a deep mythology, would require more worldbuilding than I could carry in my head.

My second revelation was that there were specialized worldbuilding tools available that nobody had ever told me about.

My third revelation was that there are active communities of worldbuilders who put a whole lot of time and effort into exploring the strange new worlds that they’ve made up themselves. Some of these worldbuilders build their worlds to support a writing project. Some build their worlds to support tabletop role-playing game campaigns. And, most amazingly to me, some build their worlds just for the fun and challenge of it all!

And it is fun. And it is challenging. And it does get your puzzle-solving mind to wander off in all sorts of interesting directions. And it requires a bit of discipline remain focused on just the necessary parts of a constructed world, and to avoid the excessive breadth and depth they refer to as “Worldbuilder’s Disease.”

So I got myself into worldbuilding. I got my fifth grader into worldbuilding. She got her teacher into worldbuilding. And now their whole class is worldbuilding!

If you care to join us, here are some resources to get you started, or to help you guide your own class of worldbuilding students:

World Anvil

I can’t recommend World Anvil highly enough as a platform for developing and organizing notes on worldbuilding. It’s a wiki-type system where users build a Wikipedia style encyclopedia of people, places, and things in their story worlds. Like Wikipedia, these articles can be organized into categories and can reference each other with links. Even better than Wikipedia, for worldbuilding purposes, there are templates that help in eliciting and developing ideas in greater depth. The free version is quite usable, and premium versions offer more presentation options, storage space, and access control.

Worldbuilding Magazine

Now into its third volume of publishing six issues per year, Worldbuilding Magazine and its archives are free online. Each issue focuses on a different theme and its relevance to the development of an imaginary world. The most recent at this writing is “Death and Taxes,” but previous issues have explored the worldbuilding aspects of Magic, Food, Government, History, and other useful topics.

Worldbuilding Books

Tops on my list to read is Collaborative Worldbuilding by Trent Hergenrader, who teaches worldbuilding co-creation as part of his classes in creative writing at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Worldbuilding on Social Media

Worldbuilder’s Sanctum is a Facebook group that skews toward tabletop role-play designers and game masters, but includes are many resources and discussions of value to authors as well.

Worldbuilding on YouTube

Worldbuilding Software

If you need a map to visualize your world, Wonderdraft is a specialized graphics program that makes it quick and easy to create some very nice looking maps in a variety of styles.

My Newsletter

Plug, plug! I’m starting a newsletter focused on my writing and worldbuilding, with instructive examples of how the one helps with the other. The first issue comes out next month, but the subscriptions page is live right now!

Other Resources?

Do you have any resources you like to use to help develop, visualize, or organize your story worlds? Share them in the comments!

Six Titles for Your Writing Workshop Bookshelf

There are some things about being a teacher that stay with you  – even after you’ve packed up your posters and curriculum binders and left the classroom for other adventures. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a classroom, but I still consider the true start of a year September 1 – regardless of what the calendar and my accountant says. And I still create lesson plans in my mind – especially when I come across books that I know my students would have loved.

Lately, I’ve been thinking  a lot about what makes a writer – and how we can nurture and support that yearning early on – especially in kids who would never dare to imagine that being an author is even a possibility for them. So, I’ve put together a book list for teachers (and parents) who might want a little writing workshop inspiration on their shelves for those kids – the ones who just might become our future favorite authors if we only let them see that it’s possible.

Our Story Begins:  Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids – edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

“From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?”

I want to go back in time and give this book to 10 year old me. I was well into adulthood before I saw an early, unpublished draft from a “real” writer’s notebook. I remember the feeling that came over me when I realized that this Pulitzer Prize winner’s work wasn’t just magically wonderful. In fact, his early draft wasn’t really any better than some of the stuff I was producing at my desk late at night. It was the first moment I realized that Writers (with a capital W) weren’t somehow a super special subgroup of our species who emerged filled with brilliance and wit and talent from birth. They were just people who wrote – and rewrote – and rewrote again and again until they got it right. Imagine how empowering it would be to realize that as a young reader and writer.

Some Writer:  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

“Caldecott Honor winner  Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell the story of this American literary icon. Readers young and old will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life. This authorized tribute, a New York Times bestseller, includes an afterword by Martha White, his granddaughter.”

I love seeing glimpses of young E.B. White’s life and writing. I especially love seeing how these young experiences are reflected in the novels he wrote as adult. I think kids will enjoy seeing the revisions White did on the books we know know as masterpieces.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

“The Newbery Award–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical creative writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Jack Gantos instructs young writers on using their “writing radar” to unearth story ideas from their everyday lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires readers to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create, revise, and perfect their stories.”

Funny. Smart. And full of motivation and great tips. This book is a fun way to help kids see that their lives are already story worthy. They just need to notice everything that’s going on around them and write it down in their trusty journal.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

“Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best―herself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:

– How she dealt with being bald until she was five
– How she overcame her struggles with reading
– How family traditions with her Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins and her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye, are so different

Debut author Susan Tan has written a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.”

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is simply a delight. She’s also a great role model for writing about your life (and your feelings) in a fun and interesting way. Kids who like to write will relate to Cilla immediately – and may even begin thinking about (and writing down) their own life stories.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

“Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.
Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.”

The 5th graders in Ms. Hill’s class have a lot going on this year. And they chronicle it all – their doubts, their worries, their friendships, and their desires –  in a poetry project. Kids can see that writing really can make changes in their lives – and that their voice really does matter. Bonus: the book is full of poetry how to’s and prompts to help kids create their own poetry project.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

“Holy unanticipated occurrences! From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black and white by K. G. Campbell.”

So much fun! Part graphic novel/part traditional novel – Kate DiCamillo’s story of comic book loving Flora and her super hero squirrel buddy is page-turning fun. It’s also a great look at imaginative story-telling at its finest. A fun way to get kids thinking creatively about the stories they want to tell – and how to best enhance the telling. Best of all, it will give them permission to  let their imagination go a little wild. Kid me would have loved this – and would have come up with a dozen super hero style stories that would have made me laugh out loud while I was writing.

BONUS Title:
Humongous Book of Cartooning by Christopher Hart

“Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is a great value book covering everything the beginner needs to master cartooning. It teaches how to draw cartoon people, fantasy characters, layouts, background design and much more. This latest cartoon title from Chris Hart, the world’s bestselling author of drawing and cartooning books, packs a wallop. It’s the cartooning book that has it all: cartoon people, animals, retro-style “toons'”, funny robots (no one has ever done cartoon robots in a how-to book before, and movies like “Wall-E” and “Robots” were smash hits and prove their appeal), fantasy characters and even sections on cartoon costumes, character design, and cartoon backgrounds and composition. The Humongous Book of Cartooning is humongous, not only because it’s so big, but also because it includes a huge amount of original eye-catching characters and copious visual “side hints” that Chris is famous for. There is more actual instruction in this book than in any other of Chris’ cartooning titles. In short, if you want to know how to draw cartoons, Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is for you.”

Every writer gets a little stuck sometimes. Sometimes moving from words to pictures helps break the log jam. Doodling some basic character sketches activates a different part of the brain – and can often move you from stuck to full of ideas again. This book makes drawing characters fun and easy – even for someone who mostly deals in words all day. Kids will like the simple how to and the funny characters – and I’ll wager that more than one imaginative story will come from drawing some of these cartoons.

These 6 (okay, 7) books are on my inspirational writing workshop bookshelf right now. What’s your favorite “Get kids writing” book? Or even your favorite “Get me writing” book? Let me know in the comments below.