Sunday, 28 August 2011

Creating a Fully-Developed City

My current WiP is set in a Gotham-esque city, where a few days ago I had a rough idea of four districts – shopping, business, industrial, and suburban. I scribbled out a map. I made notes of descriptions, what the bustling shopping district would be like against the ghostly industrial district. I was pretty proud of myself. The city was dark and eerie and a whole character in itself.


I got notes back from a beta, who commented on the less-than-adequate world-building. What? But – but – the districts! And the flashing lights! And the darkened alleys! How could anyone not love that?

Apparently, plenty of people.

A few more hours of research, I figured out what I was doing wrong, and it was a lot. (I’ll take this moment to bow down multiple times to my beta reader.)

I’m going to take you through the steps I used to design a city from scratch. Hopefully you’ll come out of the world-building process looking much better than I did the first time around!

Step One: Google images

Yep, I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but I’m going to do it again. Designing a city in your head is all very well and good, but it’s those little details you won't come up with on your own that makes your setting real to the reader. This time, I’m going to give you a search phrase:

big city district map

You can change big to small, or city to village or town, or district to districts or get rid of the word altogether, whatever. Vary your searches and see if you can come up with a map that looks roughly how you pictured the city in your head.

Step Two: Alteration time!

Use Gimp, Photoshop, hell, even Paint, and make any changes you want, adding in coastlines or parks or mountains etc. It might not look great, but trust me, the visual makes a difference. Next, mark out the different districts you want in black or red. Use a key, because this part will be coupled with –

Step Three: Create your city districts

After much internet browsing (which wasn’t procrastination, I swear!), I discovered a few important elements to consider when creating districts.

Residents – includes wealth and ideologies, and will have an impact on infrastructure
History of the city
History of the district
Geography (whether it’s near ocean or river or mountains, etc)
Materials of buildings
Nature – parks/hedges/lakes/fountains
Relationship with other districts
Best-known places, run by people with history and personalities of their own
Religious buildings
Law buildings

Okay, that was more than a few.

But you don’t have to use all of these for every district. It’s just good to keep them in mind.

Let’s go with an example:

The Docks district is on the shoreline between the Vista and Noda districts. Colloquially known as the ‘Salt-Licker’ district, it’s packed with traders, fishermen, and travellers. There are plenty of storefronts and pubs, honeycombed with erosion and exotic enough to be suited to the many sea-faring visitors. The most popular tavern is Maychips, owned by Hardy, a retired fisherman who has hung plasters of his many spectacular catches over the years on the paint-peeled walls.

This is only a simple description, loosely based on one of my own districts. The reason it’s so simple is because it’ll never even show up in my story. But for my sake, I’m glad to have such a solid idea in mind. I have twelve districts now, each distinct, each adding their own flavour to the imagery of my city as a whole.

Isn’t that better than just “shopping, business, suburban, and industry districts”?

I can’t stress enough how important it is to research district descriptions if you’re creating your own city. Try generating some ideas from role-playing games, where world-building is essential.

Do you have any world-building tricks? Can you suggest anything I might have missed?

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Write on Con

Thanks to the lovely Jo Hart, I was lucky enough to discover Write on Con, and I'm here to pay it forward.

Ever wanted to attend a writing conference, but didn't have the time/money/availability?


It's a FREE conference for kidlit writers, and it happens ONLINE between August 16th and August 18th. I haven't been this excited about something since NaNoWriMo.

Things to do:

Post queries/first 250 words/synopsis for critique
See others' works, as well as what other people have to say about it
Chat to other writers
Participate in forum discussions
Enter contests
And more, which I'm still discovering....

And, because I know the real reason you'd want to "attend" this conference, a taste of some of the amazing agents (and assistants) involved:

Jenny Bent
Michael Bourret
Ginger Clark
Sarah Crowe
Catherine Drayton
Natalie M. Fischer
Weronika Janczuk
Jennifer Laughran
Jim McCarthy
Sara Megibow
Kathleen Ortiz
Kelly Sonnack
Jennifer Rofe
Joanna Stampfel-Volpe
Kate Schafer Testerman
Suzie Townsend

Even just typing out their names had me gushing. Who needs celebrities when you have agents like THESE?

Best of all, this year Write on Con has a new program: NINJA AGENTS! Several agents will be sneaking around the forums looking at query letters and offering critiques... and maybe representation.


(And if you want to friend me, I'm just under "Tamara".)

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Interview with Marissa Meyer

Marissa Meyer, author of the highly-anticipated CINDER, was kind enough to drop by and answer some questions on her past stint as a popular fanfiction writer, overcoming writing obstacles, and fictional love interests.

1. You started out as a fanfiction writer under the name Alicia Blade. Tell us about the first fanfic you ever made public.
I think I was 13 when I posted my first fanfic. It was called “Remembering Love,” it was about 5 pages long, and it consisted of major angst. It was pretty awful.

2. You’re still one of the most popular Sailor Moon fanfiction writers online, which certainly helps with spreading the word on CINDER. How did you go about building that following?
I’ve made a ton of friends and met so many amazing people through the online community! I’m very lucky to have so many people supporting CINDER right off the bat. I don’t know that it was a conscious effort to build “a following”—I enjoyed writing fanfics, so I wrote a bunch of them (more than 40). I also tended to stick with one genre (we’ll call it romantic comedy) within the Sailor Moon storyline, so readers knew what to expect when they read one of my fics. If it was the type of story that pleased them, they kept coming back, and I kept writing them!

3. CINDER is due out in January and we’re all so excited for it – I’ll bet you are too. What are you going to do on the release date?
Ooh, that’s an excellent question! I haven’t the faintest idea! There will be a release party a week or two after the book comes out, which I’m really excited for. But I’ll have to start planning my day-of celebration soon. I’m sure it will involve champagne and a trip to my local bookstore. And probably squealing.

4. What was the hardest writing obstacle you had to overcome with CINDER?
This might be on my brain because you and I were just talking about it, but it was really difficult to be patient with CINDER and not settle for the “it’s good enough” mentality. This was the first novel I’d ever queried and I knew I would only have one chance at that first impression with agents, so I forced myself to take my time and make the book as strong as I could, through two rewrites and numerous revisions. It wasn’t until one of my beta readers emailed me and said, “This is done, send it out now,” did I let myself think it could be ready.

5. You’re brilliant at creating sexy, desirable men. Tell us more about Prince Kai, the love interest in CINDER. What are his best and worst traits? What makes him different from the normal fairy tale princes?
Why thank you! I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks they’re sexy! Prince Kai is probably the closest thing to “Prince Charming” you’ll find in the series. He’s smart and gentlemanly and even chivalrous at moments, but he also has a bit of rebelliousness in him that comes out more and more as he’s forced into a position of political power. Sometimes I think poor Kai has the hardest role in the books, being constantly forced to choose between what he wants or what’s best for his country.

6. Finally, CINDER is the first of a series of four, with the following books also based on fairy tales – Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Snow White. What made you choose these particular fairy tales?
When I first started brainstorming the series, I made a list of some of my favorite tales, then started thinking up ways they could be futurized. Something about the four tales I chose just started falling into place. The glass coffin became a suspended animation tank, the tower became a satellite orbiting Earth, the wolf became a genetically engineered mutant. Initially I’d thought they would each be a stand-alone story, but the more I thought about them, the more one overarching story started to fall into place. Writing this series has been kind of like putting together a huge puzzle, which has been both fun and challenging.

Thank you so much for the interview, Tamara!

And thank you for answering my questions, Marissa!

CINDER is due out January 3rd, 2012. You can preorder it here. Make sure you check it out!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The Benefits of Harry Potter

I've done a guest post for The Book Lantern on the benefits of the Harry Potter series. I've steered past the usual discussion topics for the books and tried for something a little different.

You can find the post here.

Please have a read and add to the discussion!