Tag Archives: Worldbuilding

Don’t Neglect the Background Characters

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“Are you ready to rock! Umm…Hello?”

Introduction

You’ve developed your plot, you have your characters ready to go, you’re secondary characters are standing in the wings, and your settings are all created. As you write your story, you feel like something is missing. Or rather, someone is missing. In the movie industry they are known as “extras”.

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“Wait, where are the others?”

When I wrote The Askinar Towers trilogy I neglected background characters in most of the story. Yes, there were also patrons in the Floor 17 Café as I had mentioned them; there were other citizens of the town of Rising Falls and the village of Greenblade Valley. But what I seriously overlooked were the people inside the towers themselves. Four towers are featured with a hundred floors in each, all-glass walkways that connect the towers, and elevators in each tower. Yet when my main characters went from one floor to the next or crossed the walkways, they didn’t pass anyone!

Oftentimes when we are writing our story we focus on our MC (Main Character), the supporting characters, the setting, and the plot itself. We overlook those bit players who round out the story. Even if none of them have names, there should be people present in various scenes. Just because your MC and his companions are driving from Phoenix to Tucson always keep in mind that there are others on the road with him.

 

“He was there, here’s further proof”

In book 1, Nexus of the Worlds, my characters are being chased by someone they refer to as the Robed Figure. Nothing could be seen of this individual; no hands, feet, or face. By the end of book 1 they learn that it he is a shapeshifter who prefers the nonhuman disguise of a raven.

In book 2 my characters find themselves in 1970s Washington D.C. in time for the presidential inauguration. The climax of the scene is on stage when not one but three people who look like President-elect William Franklin. The characters conclude that one of the three was the shapeshifter and to create further proof, I added the following scene…

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As the crowd departed from the steps of the Capitol building, a worried mother was trying to drag her daughter back to the car. “I’m tired of your little games,” she said.

“But, I swear mamma!” cried the little girl. “I saw the president turn into a large black bird and fly away!”

“You’ve been out in the cold too long,” the mother said. “We need to get you indoors.”

 

From this scene, featuring two extras, we see additional proof that one of the three presidents was indeed the shapeshifter. It may not have been necessary, but it added a little humor to an otherwise intense scene.

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“You mentioned them in book 1, where are they?”

In Vol. 2 of “Happy to Serve”, my current WIP (Work In Progress), the Floor 17 Café provides live entertainment sometimes on the weekend. At the very end of book 1, the maître D and new owner, Maurice announced that they were going to feature one 4th year student from the Academy of the Seven Spires each month to entertain and help them improve their skills and get them a gig or two to mention on their resume or letter of introduction.

I wrote the first draft of Vol. 2 last November and shelved the project for several months to attempt other writings. When I started to look over book 1 and then moved on to book 2 I got the motivation to continue the work. It was then that I noticed the omission of those 4th year students. I featured another guy, Vincent Singer, who was a 4th year student and then graduated, but I forgot what Maurice announced.

I created two new characters to fill this idea and even though they have names and bard skills, they are nothing more than background characters because they will be mentioned but not necessarily seen. That is where background characters can play a special role. Not only do you have a performer come in but you’ll have more characters in the scene to watch that performer. Perhaps one of them is an owner of another tavern who wants to book that singer for his own place. Maybe the singer’s mother is there and is upset because she believes her child is wasting her time performing when he should be on the farm helping with the chores. And so on.

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Three Simple Words and other suggestions

One of the easiest ways to get your readers to understand that there are others present in your scene is a simple phrase like, the crowd roared. Three simple words to let the reader know that your characters aren’t the only ones present. Whether they are in a stadium or a theater, this phrase will serve as a simple reminder that extras are present.

In Happy to Serve, the entire book is a series of blog posts from Chuck the Waiter. As entertaining as the characters and the storylines were I always felt something was missing. When I looked at real blogs a great idea hit me. I needed a comments section to have characters make reference to the post. In addition to the standard characters in the Floor 17 Café, I created a series of others who weren’t necessarily patrons but who worked in one of the towers and faithfully followed Chuck’s blog. I had Brenda the librarian who had trouble getting away from her work to visit; Teven, a Money Exchange teller who worked for the Askinar Towers Bank and Money Exchange; and a person known only as KittyKat98. She started out as a fan and by the end of the book she became an obsessive stalker. She will go on to appear in book 2 as the villain.

Some ideas for your own background characters would be: a guy who’s car broke down on the side of the road and is fixing a flat or talking to the tow truck driver, a mother coming out of a grocery store with a full cart and two crying children holding on to her jacket, a funeral procession going through as your MC is waiting at an intersection, a group of construction men taking a short break on the side of freeway.

As stated before, these characters don’t need names, and don’t necessarily need to speak, but their presence lends to the setting and prove that your MC and his companions aren’t the only ones present.

 

 Conclusion

For further ideas and suggestions of background characters, check out the Urban and Rural setting Thesauruses by Becca Puglisi and Angela Ackerman. We’ll look at improving your settings in a future article. What do you do to create background characters? Is there a phrase you use or have read that instantly signifies people? Share with me what you’ve used in the comments section below.

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

 

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Your Town’s Main Attraction

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(World Building, part 3)

Introduction

We’ve been discussing World Building over the last couple of articles and if you haven’t had the chance to read them yet check them out now… WB1 and WB2. In this article we continue the discussion of Town Building by zooming in on the town and taking a look and what might bring someone to your town. What is the main attraction or focal point of your town?

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The Fishing Village

Most of your towns; from a small village to a large city, has some sort of trade that it is known for. In a fishing village that trade of course is fishing. Most of the men would head out to sea in the early morning and not return until afternoon, or evening depending on the success of their catch. Fishmongers; traders in various fish and other seafood would have shacks set up along the beach hocking their wares.

As a main attraction, your town could be built in a horseshoe shape with a large lake at its center. Perhaps a large ocean-themed gambling house could be built on stilts in the center of the lake to attract visitors. The only way to get to the casino would be by boat.

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Another idea, and something a little more unique, would be a bait-and-tackle shop. Most citizens would visit the local tavern for news and gossip. In a fishing village, a shop that sells live bait and rents boats would be a better locale. It allows the writer a little more creativity than your typical dull tavern setting.

 

The Inland Village

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A blacksmith might be the main attraction of a village further inland and away from a large body of water. Like the tackle shop, this could be a place where people come to socialize while watching the smith work on the latest project.

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If a village is too small to house a tavern or common room, a boardinghouse might be the main attraction of your village. A large farmhouse with multiple beds for travelers which would include a meal or two. Perhaps if it is on farmland, the owner might get a couple hours of labor out of a visitor in exchange for room and board.

 

Town Attractions

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The larger the town the bigger, and sometimes better, the attraction. A town I created called Manzana Gran (“Big Apple” in Spanish), the main attraction was the Emerald Gardens Coliseum. I created a large gladiator type event called the Colossal Warrior Challenge which came around once a year. There was another event called the Chaotic Mayhem Series which was similar to football teams but with weapons. Other events such as plays and circus-like performances could be there. Plus, I created the fantasy version of concessions to be in the outer ring of the coliseum.

 

The Tourist Trap

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Just like any place in your own hometown area, there is always some little place where people like to go for a quick trip, buy some little knick-knacks and pay too much money for food, gas, and local entertainment. In your world, you can do the same thing. Create a collection of ruins where a mighty civilization once lived and promote it around the countryside as the place to see when in the area. Create a monument to a great battle that took place decades or centuries ago and give tours.

Not all tourist traps necessarily have to be legit either. Some of your local thieves guilds might create said tourist trap as an actual trap! For example, a guided tour in the woods only to be attacked by a band of trolls who rob every tourist and split the loot with the guild. Another could be a scenic boat ride to be overrun by pirates. The list is as endless as your imagination.

 

Conclusion

Remember, as standard as a tavern is for a centerpiece of a town for entertainment, it doesn’t always have to be the main focus. Try something more on the unique side and your readers will thank you for it. Please share any ideas that you might have for a main attraction, I’d love to hear from you.

 

Until next time,

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

Building Your Town ~WB2

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(World-building, part 2)

 Introduction

In our previous article we looked at an overview of World Building and some of the problems that I personally had with it. Grant it, you don’t have to include everything you read about in your world but at least have an idea how something works so that if a storyline comes along that would feature that portion of the world, you’d know how to handle it.

In this article we look at creating a town and what is necessary for it to function and I’ll share hardships of the first town I created. I’ll be using the word “locale” for an overall use of the setting. The population listed in each is my own guesstimation. I’m sure everyone has their own idea of how many people reside in each size of a locale. These descriptions are for a Fantasy or Medieval setting.

 

Village, Town, City

Before building, you must decide how large of an area you are creating. There are three basic sizes of locales: A Village, A Town, and A City. There are additional sizes but these three will suffice for the purpose of this article.

Village

Village

            A village consists of approximately 50 people and, depending on your story will have a larger town or city nearby. Villages will not have all of the amenities that are found in the larger towns; and most likely will not have any kind of elected official or mayor. Depending on your story, you might select someone to serve as Matron or Patron of the village which could be the eldest member of the village. It could also be the one with the most knowledge of the village or area in general.

Usually a village will have that country feel to it; featuring farmland, orchards, and a fishing hole. A fishing village will be near a large body of water with fishing as its main line of business. Not every village will feature standalone shops for people to purchase items. A shop generally is someone’s home where the business is conducted in the front room (with the family living in the back) or on the first floor (with the family living above).

 Town

Town

A town consists of approximately 500 people and is mostly self-sufficient. A town will have either a mayor as an elected official or a town council; sometimes both. Aside from having more people, a town will feature several businesses and even have a residential section. A town will also house a couple of guilds where people from villages, farms, and the general area can come in for meetings. A guild is an organization of people with similar interests. A Merchant’s guild will feature a place for all shopkeepers to get together and discuss the latest news and suggestions for improving business. I’ll feature guilds in another article.

City

City

A city is the largest of the three and usually has towns and/or villages nearby as suburbs. A city consists of 1500-2000 people and will feature a ruler such as a king or governor. A city council might also be included, plus law enforcement; city guards, possibly a night watch, and soldiers from the castle.

A city will also have various districts which make it more of a “melting pot” of citizens. You’ll have your residential sections of: Wealthy (merchants, royalty, etc.), the Working Class (bartenders, laborers, and families), and the Lower Class (thieves, outcasts, etc.)

The advantage of a city is that you have several businesses that feature the same service thereby bringing a little friendly competition or that they cater to certain individuals. For example, I have a tavern called Noblemen’s which caters to the upper class of a city. On the flipside, there is a tavern called The Hangman’s Noose which caters to a seedier clientele. And right in between, I have a tavern called, Quenchers which caters to the rest.

 

Business Suggestions

As you can see all three locales vary in size and naturally won’t house all businesses that are available. The smaller the locale, the fewer the businesses; or specialty shops that you would find in a bigger town. Here are some suggestions of businesses that can be featured in all three regardless of size.

Church

Church

There should be some sort of religious facility that people can come and worship. It can be a proper church building, temple, or a simple garden grove with a shrine. Even farmers and dairy owners would want to pay homage to a god of nature for crops or health of cattle.

Tavern

Tavern or Common Room

No locale would complete without at least one watering hole. This is usually the location where everyone will gather in the evening to socialize with their neighbors. A common room is more of pre-restaurant idea that centers on food service and less on alcohol. Some places will have both a tavern and a common room in the same building.

Healer

Healer

Call him a shaman, priest, or simply the local healer; a locale should have someone who can tend to those who are sick and in need of medicine. In a village, it would most likely be the Matron of the place; in a town, an apothecary (pharmacy) might be available; and a city would have all of these and possibly a hospital.

Some might ask why would a village have both a healer and a church? I mean afterall a priest is a healer, right? Correct! However, there might be people in the village that aren’t comfortable in dealing with a priest; especially if they are not of the same faith. A farmer with an axe wound would not want to listen to a priest attempt to convert him while healing him. This could make for an interesting conflict in the story too.

There are many other business ideas and I’ll provide links at the end for further help.

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This Town ain’t Big Enough

One of my earliest experiences as a DM (Dungeon Master) I created my first town called Tsangu. Don’t know where I came up with the name but I wanted some strange and Fantasylike. Anyways my first concept was that of a one-street Western Town; buildings on both sides of the street (maybe an alleyway between buildings) but nothing more. I wasn’t too familiar with towns and this came long before the internet was around. I don’t recall any of the names of the businesses except for one and it was called Nuthin’ for Sumthin’. It was a front for the local thieves’ guild and the business they ran was for looks and not for profit. The prices were outrageous as they weren’t expecting customers.

Since then I have slowly improved in designing towns and villages but that’s been possible with the help of the internet and mapping programs. For my current project, DWC, the main locale is the village called Caldera Falls. I have a few ideas of what is featured but haven’t quite worked out everything yet. The neighboring city is called, Ciudad (Spanish for ‘city’).

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What about a Shantytown?

Finally, I want to discuss a possibility for you that might help with story ideas. A shantytown is worse than the seedier district of a city. Shantytowns are instant locales that are created with a series of people and tents or wooden shacks. If you have a group of people who are suddenly homeless due to war or disease, they become a band of refugees who own whatever they can carry.

A local town can provide tents or scrap pieces of wood or cloth to help construct places to live. Food is whatever is brought with them or given by the locals and sanitary needs are virtually unheard of. This setting can help you to hide a thief who is on the run from the law, created sudden robberies in town, or create problems due to traditions or language barriers of the foreigners.

 

Conclusion

In my next article we’ll continue the discussion of town building and look at what the focal point is for your setting. Plus, I’ll make suggestions for some towns that you might haven’t thought of. In the meantime, share with me any of your problems you’ve had in creating towns or comments you might have in businesses you’d add.

 

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

Featured links for further assistance

DMG II (Dungeon Master’s Guide 2): This free PDF of the manual can help you in your creation. Chapter 3 gives you an idea of how to create a fantasy city including tables from which you can choose professions and trades for characters. Chapter 4 is about an old D & D city called Saltmarsh. This gives you all of the details of this town and you can get an idea of what you want to create.

AD&D 2nd Edition: (*Sorry for the nudity on the front cover*)This collection of 26 books holds every type of book a gamer could want plus valuable information for the writer. In the DMG, chapter 6 covers money and equipment which will give an idea of how much things costs and of what value certain item are.

 

 

Taking Things for Granted~ WB1

 

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(World-building, part 1)

Introduction

            Have you ever played SIMs computer game? It’s an opportunity to further the lives of pre-made characters and create places for them to live and hangout. It’s like being a god of your own world; you help them get a job, make friends, and basically live their lives. But sometimes things happen because you’re not paying enough attention and accidents occur. I had one character wet the floor because she needed to use the bathroom and I didn’t see it right away. I took it for granted that she would do this on her own.

A while back I wrote an article called “The Writer and the God Complex” in which I discuss how our characters seem to take on a life of their own and for as much as you want them to go here and do this, they want to go there and do that. This article is on building the world itself and how we take certain things for granted.

 

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Yeah, but what’s the source?

A couple months ago I began a new writing project I’ve dubbed DWC. I don’t want to give away the title as I fear someone will steal the idea and get stories out before me. As I began to create the characters, the concepts, and the little village where they all lived; I got to thinking that I haven’t researched World-building (WB) very much.

Yes, I already have books published and, if you read them closely, you can tell that my WB skills are lacking. So I went in search of articles and sites to help me with this information. I’ll share what I found at the end of the article.

The name of the village where my characters live is called Caldera Falls. Naturally it’s named after a waterfall that’s at the north end of the village and there is a mill at the bottom that uses the water to turn its wheel. I decided that the water ends in a pool and then creates a nice stream that runs through the village and dumps into a body of water called Farewell Bay.

So then I ask myself, where does the water come from at the top to spill over into the falls? The answer is nowhere to be found. In fact, I really didn’t want to answer that question. I thought it has a falls; the village is named after it, so leave it alone! But I couldn’t leave it because I just know someone who reads my story will ask that very same question. That forced me to find an answer. One of the articles I found talked about water runoff and the drainage situation and I’m thinking, “That’s too real!” But I then realized that this is what I’m after.

 

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Ditch the Plateau

Another idea I had was to make the capital city, Ciudad, reside on the top of a plateau of a mountain. It looks out over the rest of the area called, Alderman Valley which features Caldera Falls and two other towns. However, the question arises: Who is going to climb up the side of a mountain to get to the city after pulling into the docks of Farewell Bay? Again I wanted to refuse to answer this question because the plateau idea was neat. I even had an idea of an elevator on the side of the mountain facing Alderman Valley where people could go down and get to the towns there. Of course they can completely bypass the city and travel around the mountain, across the sand, and over to Caldera Falls. So I decided to ditch the mountain but I’m keeping the name Alderman Valley and having it to be a misnomer when it was discovered and no one bothered to correct the error.

 

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Town Boundaries

Another item I tend to overlook is boundaries or city lines where one town ends and the next begins. Out here in The Valley of Arizona you can go through three different cities in just a few minutes and not even know where one ends and the other begins. Primarily, it’s because you don’t have a Welcome to Mesa sign at every area when you cross one to another. I thought about just making the grass a slightly different shade of green for this town compared to that town but that was fairly lame. Given that Alderman isn’t that big, putting up signs to announce the arrival in one and the departure of another was a little too much.

Then I hit upon a unique idea. Since I was thinking about the source of my waterfall, what if the river to the falls broke off and travelled down the side of the hill and created a line that separated Ciudad from Alderman Valley. That’s an interesting way to create a border without stating the obvious. Since the village of Greencrest is dominated by orchards, how do they get water for the trees? So I had the river branch off and created all of the borders for Alderman Valley. This way when you crossed the river you knew you were entering the next town. Problem solved!

 

Suggestions for World-building

  1. When doing research for building your world, don’t assume you have to include everything you read about. It’s one thing for you to know it’s there in your world but you don’t have to mention it in your story.
  2. Design a type of map to know where businesses and homes are located. You don’t want to say your characters when north to the tavern in one chapter and then south in a later chapter; even though they left the same place each time.
  3. Study maps of cities and countries to get an idea of borders and the “lay of the land.”
  4. Make a checklist of things you want to include in your world so you don’t forget them. However if they don’t fit, don’t force them. You’ll upset yourself and your reader.

 

Conclusion

Make an effort to build your world so you know where things go and how people get there. In future articles, we’ll discuss other ideas. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions or ideas from you own world-building share with me in the comments below.

Happy Adventuring!

Chris

World-building Sites and Articles

Here are just a few places to research to give you an idea of how to build your own world:

World Building Academy— This site has been very helpful! You can sign up for weekly tips.

Inkwell Ideas–A collection of articles to help you flesh out your world.

Fantastic Medieval Ships— Does you world have a large body of water? You’ll need ships!

Medieval Demographics made Easy–What’s the difference in size between a village, town, and city? Here’s some help!

Aside

 Hello everyone! I have returned once again and, hopefully, I’ll be back to a weekly status with my blog posts. A major change has occurred in my life last month which is why I have been absent for the last … Continue reading