Writing yarn 2: World Building

As many of you know, I recently published my new novel, “The Chariots of Orion 2: The Contract”, the sequel to “The Chariots of Orion 1”. I sometimes get asked by people how I did the world building behind the story, and behind the book, so I wanted to make a little post about how to create your own fantasy or sci-fi world.

1. Inspiration

This one sounds probably lame, but it is actually quite important. By inspiration I mean something that will give you an idea as to how your world could look like if you’re just starting out. Some writers will tell you that you need the story, first, but I’d say you can forget about that. I think that on the contrary, the setting helps you create your story, and you should have your world, first.

Inspiration is actually quite easy to get. You could, that’s obvious, read fantasy and sci-fi books, preferably those with strong world building, but don’t try to copy any of them, because your work should be your creation.

I also like to read books that show ancient maps, because this will inspire you when you start drawing your maps for your world, and I also recommend that you read books about travelling, books that show marvellous landscapes, because this will inspire you for the landscapes in your world.

2. Context

You don’t need to have your story yet, but once you have an idea as to how your world could look like, it’s time for thinking about the context. Is your world a futuristic civilisation on a planet in another constellation? Is it a people of hunters living in a rainforest? Is your story in the range of fantasy or sci-fi, or something between? Is it a space opera with colonised planets, or a city where only wizards live?

Before you start building your setting, think about the context. World building doesn’t start in your head, it starts in your story.

Wait, you think. Didn’t you just say that you don’t need to have a story to start creating the world? That is why you only need the context.

You can’t just sit down and start making up names to create a fictional civilisation. Well, you can, but it may not be that realistic.

Alien landscape

3. Physics

It’s getting scientific, now. If you have read my book, you may know that I have spent months researching how an exoplanet could look like, before writing the story. I don’t say that you have to spend months researching, but I am convinced that if your world is scientifically good researched that it might help your story. I wanted my world to be as realistic as it could be, so I wrote down what I had to find out about my planet. So, I wanted the planet to be really realistic, so I actually went to talk to scientists. I made a list that you could use:

1. How large is the planet? It will have an impact on how much you would weigh on the planet, and therefore how the people on that planet look.

2. Does it orbit a sun? Or more? How many? What kind of suns? If the sun is a Blue Giant and very hot, but you want a cold climate, the planet would have to be very far away from its sun, and so on.

3. What is the planet composed of? Stone? Gas?

4. How tectonically active is the planet and how do the tectonics work?

5. What is the atmosphere composed of? The atmosphere on my planet contains more oxygen, which leads to higher danger of fires, which is why all buildings on the planet are made of non-burning material, so this will have an impact on the way your citizens build their cities.

6. How many earth-years is a year? How long does it take the planet to orbit round its sun? (You can find that out if you know the mass of the planet and the sun, and the distance)

7. How is the axis of the planet? Is it tilted like on the Earth, or straight? Your decision will have a great impact on the climate of the planet (tilted: seasons, straight: no seasons, more extreme climate zones).

8. How is the climate? (First, decide what the axis of the planet is)

9. Does the planet have moons? Maybe rings? Artificial stations in the orbit? The moons are very important as they will affect your climate. So if you have three moons, as on my planet, your characters might witness a good deal of floods and tsunamis.

Once you know the characteristics of your planet, you can start defining the land masses. The characteristics you have found out before will now help you create the lands. A planet that is larger and that is highly tectonically active will look different than a smaller planet which is not so tectonically active.

Animals are part of the setting, too.

4. Lands

Now comes the fun part! After analysing your scientific characteristics of the planet, you can actually start draw your maps. When drawing the outlines of your land masses, always consider your list to help you. Your planet is very large and highly tectonically active, and does have more than one moon, such as my planet? Your outlines will look jagged and torn, and there may be a good deal of erosion. Your planet isn’t tectonically active at all, far away from its sun, but does have more than one moon? Your planet may be known for its ferocious storms, and it could be raining methane. What about a methane flood? It’s science fiction after all, and although I really like realistic worlds, it should still be fun!

Also think about where your cities are, if there are rivers, where the climate zones are. If you have a very advanced species, you may put your capital into an arid, dry plain with no soil to grow food, because you could presume that a very advanced civilization could likely grow their food in farms within the city. If your world is medieval, you might want to think if the setting where you have put the city is realistic, if the people there are capable of growing food. But it’s fantasy and science fiction, so, if your species can eat stone, or they just hunt, that’s fine.

5. People

You may have already thought about what kind of species you want to write about in your book. If not, then you can create them based on the characteristics of your planet and your land masses. If the planet is far away from its sun, it may be very dark, and your species need large eyes. If the planet is larger, they may be quite skinny, because they are heavier than they would be one the Earth. Did your species evolve on your planet, or did they colonise it?

What do people in your world look like?

6. Environment

Are there animals on your planet? If no, then your characters probably won’t be eating meat every week. Once you know what the climate is like, you also can start defining what kind of life the planet supports. Also think about how old your planet is, because it will affect evolution.

7. Culture

I saved this, because it’s the most fun- but also quite important. The culture of your civilization will affect your story greatly. It might define whether your civilisation is peaceful, or belligerent, whether they are religious or not (on my planet, one civilisation is very religious, the other one not), and their language. You have to figure out:

Languages (see below)

What language does your civilization speak? Do they have any writing system?

Music

What kind of music do your civilizations have? If they have music at all.

Do they have a religion?

If yes, you will have to think about what kind of religion, how much that religion affects their tradition, and what the religion is about, how it evolved.

Entertainment

Entertainment and culture are intertwined, so you will have to figure our what kind of entertainment exists on your planet, or in your world. Note that if you make up some kind of dance you will have to explain how that dance evolved, and it might help if you know what kind of music your civilization does have.

If you make up steps for a dance, you could test how it looks when you play the music you have already created.

Clothing

What are people wearing in your setting? You will have to decide what kind of climate your civilization lives in before you decide on their clothing.

Buildings

Buildings can tell you whether a civilization likes embellishment, or if they don’t care about things like that.

Tradition

What kind of tradition does your civilization have? Are they conservative? Are they only interested into progress, and don’t care about tradition?

Etiquette

What is the etiquette in your society, if you’d have to advise someone who wants to travel to your fictional planet or world, what would you tell them not to do?

8. Languages

Before you can make up your languages, you should have defined the culture of your species. The culture will affect your language, and both should merge so that it looks realistic.

Writing system from my planet

You have to know a few things:

1. Do your species talk? Do they have a mouth? Do they have a body at all, or are they beings made of some kind of fog? Are they colonial organisms? If you know this, write it down, because the way the species communicates will affect the language.

2. How old is the civilisation? The older the species is, the more complex the language will be. A very ancient civilization might have altered its language innumerable times, because languages change.

3. Do your people have hands? Do they have writing? Because then you will have to invent a writing system, too!

4. Find inspiration from languages from the Earth. I started to learn new languages, like Hebrew or Mandarin, and started trying to read hieroglyphs for my book, just to learn the characteristics of those languages and as an inspiration for my fabricated alien language. I’m not telling you that you have to learn new languages just for inspiration, of course, but only learning some words and a bit of grammar might already help, because it helps you understand the way languages work.

5. The language should merge with the culture. This will make your language look more convincing. Also figure out what the music of such a species would sound like (if they have music). I created some compositions for the civilizations on my planet, which actually were helping create the languages. I will upload them once I’ve mixed them.

Another thing I did was writing “interviews” with some characters, in their native language. It’s another way to “test” if the language sounds convincing and realistic when spoken.

Hope this guide will help you create your own world and let me know if you have created one:)

Wenceslas’ writing yarn: 1: Sword fights

I am getting asked sometimes how I write my stories, or what kinds of books I like, or if I’d like to read something other people have written. So I thought I’d start giving some advice for writing in fantasy and science fiction. I’ve been a writer since I was 11 years old. If you start at that age, you are prone to be making a lot of mistakes when writing.

I don’t have a very long attention span when it comes to books, and only a few books manage to hook me. It may be just how I am, I may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (it is very likely I have that), or I just may be too picky, put it the way you want. But I don’t like books that are boring. If you send me your book, I might put it aside after reading the first page, so be warned👁

First, I’d like to discuss one of my favourite “blunders” I sometimes read in books, one that very likely causes me to put the book aside or thumb to the next chapter at once. It is sword fights. You know which ones I am talking about. They’re ubiquitous. You will stumble upon them sooner or later if you read any fantasy novel.

Those swords fights usually go down like this:

“He drew his sword and attacked. The other guy leapt aside and parried. Then the guy charged again and swung his sword. The other guy whirled out of his way and stabbed his sword at him. The first guy dodged the attack and attacked. The other guy dodged and attacked with a roar.”

If you have managed to read the whole swordplay you have earned my respect. I already stopped reading while writing it, it’s so boring.

Sword fights like this can make you put the best fantasy novel down. If I see that a few pages of swordplay are about to happen in a book, I skip it and start reading again a few pages later. Because I don’t even want to read the somewhat bearable ones. They are boring, and I hate them.

But why are tense, dramatic sword fights so boring in books? In a movie, sword fights are one of the coolest things. Swords are cool things! Why can’t we describe them in a way that they don’t become torture for our readers? I made the same mistake when I wrote my first sword fights.

The problem is actually in our language, and in the way writing works. Language is arranging words one after the other, from left to right. When we describe things, we tell one after the other. That’s how language and writing work. When we see swordplay in a movie, a lot of things happen simultaneously. That’s not possible to describe in language. “He attacked and then dodged the attack” is still a chain. And that’s what takes the tension and action away from sword fights when writing them.

I’ve tried to put that into a little coordinate system:

The problem that we need several minutes to read a sword fight that lasts only a few seconds, is what takes the perceived tension out of the writing. So how could we describe the sword fight?

Feelings and noise instead of stratagems

I know, I know. Feelings? How’s that supposed to be more interesting than the fight? But if you describe a sword fight from point of view of a third person, try to describe what the person feels while watching the fight, instead of telling us everything you know about fencing theory. You could describe the noise, the clangour of the two blades clashing together in the crisp cold air in the snow-spangled wood where the fight takes place. You could describe that the third person doesn’t pity the guy that’s bleeding from a hideous gash, because maybe they are a foe. Maybe the third person is revolted, amused, aghast at how shoddy his pupil parries. There must be something he observes.

Short scenes that make the reader imagine the fight

You don’t have to describe every hit, stab, jolt. You could describe what the third person sees in short sentences that make the reader imagine what happens.

A minute later, there was a pandemonium of swords and spears clashing, men roaring, and blood spilling cloaks

Instead of:

A minute later, the warriors charged and and the first rows clashed together violently. The knights swung their swords and attacked and were met by a row of men with spears, who responded to their attack by piercing their cloaks.

That doesn’t mean you can’t describe a fight like that, I also understand that sometimes you just have to try and hit those 100 000 words. But don’t describe too much; your reader should be capable of imagining what goes on if you describe swords and spears, the metallic clangour in the cold air, and the blood spilling the white snow (or some of that ilk).

I also really like authors that describe fights like this:

They were in a whirl of cloaks and spears.

Instead of:

He attacked with his spear. The other guy’s cloak whirled as he dodged and parried with his own spear.

So that’s enough talking about books for today. Hope it helps you with writing your fantasy novel and let me know what you think in the comments.

Find me on Instagram: @amariswenceslas

How to draw an extraterrestrial👽

When it comes to world building, one of the questions you have to ask yourself is: How do the people in your story- and on your planet- look like? And why do they look like that? Are their eyes bigger because their sun isn’t that bright? Is their skin darker because their sun is very warm? Are they monsters with tentacles or do they resemble humans? Why are they wearing that cloak, or that hairstyle? You should have a story behind each of these questions. And drawing your characters might help you build your world.

I just wanted to share a little guide as to how I am drawing my aliens. This drawing does have a bit more than 70 layers, and two extraterrestrials from The Chariots of Orion.

1. Sketch

When you have an idea how the drawing should roughly look like, dedicate the first layer to make a sketch. Don’t worry about the background just now, you can add that layer later. Note that I have also sketched the body parts that are not visible in the drawing. This is to make sure that the clothing fits the outlines of the bodies.

2. Outlines

Once you have decided what your drawing should roughly look like, and sketched the shapes of the bodies, switch to black ink to draw the outlines of the drawing, such as clothes and hair. Leave out complicated parts like hands, or hair (as in this case, Arikmé’s pompous hairstyle), and dedicate individual layers to them, in case you have to redo them several times. This sketch already does have separate layers for both figures, and for body parts such as hands.

3. Faces

It is time to draw the faces! Facial expressions are hard to draw, so you’ll want separate layers for them. Now you ought also determine the body language of the characters. How’s their relation, what are they talking about? Note that Dagon (on the left) is a higher official than Arikmé, and that he is slightly shorter than the warlord, but he doesn’t seem to look up at him. Arikmé is (as the ones among you that have read the book may already know) very proud, and whilst he reports to Dagon, he will still keep his attitude.

4. Filling and clothing

When you have done the outlines and the clothing, you can start to fill. The colour of the officials is black, and a golden and a silver belt signal a very high official, so both men are wearing black. Dagon wears a white cloak, not only because he is a higher official, but because the colour white is reserved for the king. Also, his headdress indicates that he does have more power than Arikmé. Being a warlord, Arikmé wears a cap on his head. This cap does have more than five layers, each for every colour. Note that I still haven’t done the faces.

5. Faces and hands

This is the hardest part. I first did a few layers with the eyes, and later created a layer for the skin colour, and pulled that layer under the previous layer. It’s less distracting when you can draw the eyes on a plain background. The skin colour is always hard. It’s best to try several shades until you find one that fits. The Alonians don’t really have only one type of skin colour, but they all have a shade that is rather tanned (think North Africa, South America).

Now, also Arikmé’s hair is drawn.

6. Finishing touches

Now you can draw things you forgot or want to add. Arikmé got piercings, his crown, and a sword. Dagon got some outlines for his cloak and jewels for his crown. The sign shown on Arikmé’s crown and on his robes is the character Yaxal, which stands for serrated rock, strength, and cleverness, and does have the sound “y”. There is also a female form of the character with the same sound, but a slightly different form.

7. The background

Now you can draw the background. It is easier to create the landscape after you’ve drawn your characters. I went for the city of ancient Meryo in Alonia, with the river and the desert in the background.

I hope you had fun reading this guide, and that it helps you start with your own aliens👽

Aquamarine review – update

I was so thrilled by this video review of my recent album “Aquamarine”! Thank you, Audible Addixion!😘

The review can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/AmWenceslas/activity_feed/?type=mention&ref=notif&target_story=S%3A_I1075181792520823%3AVK%3A551207065282727&notif_id=1536715277412515&notif_t=page_tag

Speaking of oceans, you should check out this article about oceans on extraterrestrial planets.

You can find “Aquamarine” on Bandcamp:

https://amariswenceslas.bandcamp.com/

What the “Chariots of Orion” is about and why I started to write sci-fi

The Request – The Chariots of Orion 1 is my first sci-fi novel to be published! But why does a producer and singer start to write sci-fi?

First, I’ve always loved astronomy and science fiction. When I was little, my dream was to become an astronomer. We know that this didn’t work out. But that didn’t stop me from loving astronomy. Maybe it was because of this fervour that I wanted to create a novel about what could happen if we met an intelligent, highly advanced civilisation from outer space.

The world of my book and its countries I’d say were built on logic, rather than only fantasy. I wanted to create a completely fictional, but still realistic – somewhat believable – world for my extraterrestrial civilisation. As much as I love H.P. Lovecraft and especially the Cthulu series, I wanted to create extraterrestrials that were similar to us, not monsters with tentacles. Don’t get this wrong, I love stories with monsters with tentacles, but I thought that the message of the book, “what would happen if we met a highly advanced civilisation from outer space? What if they would attack us?” would be easier to limn when the civilisation is physically similar to us, because they’re looking similar like us, but don’t function like us.

But then, I wouldn’t dare to claim that my kind of civilisation is realistic… Who knows what aliens might look like? They might actually have tentacles, like in “Arrival”, and be terribly advanced, too. And who knows if they would be friendly inclined?

Analysis: Sunburns, evolution, and aliens

Last week I was sitting there, covered in cooling ointment, my arms (and my face) completely red. How come? I caught a bad sunburn after spending the day outside with my bro, doing research for my novel.

How is that possible? How do you get a sunburn when you actually are climbing about rocks and boulders, and you’re surrounded by fog?

It seems as though our bodies are just not capable of dealing with so much sun. But, wait- we are a species that evolved on a planet with a sun, right? Have you ever seen a giraffe complaining about sunburn? An ape? A jellyfish? So, how come animals can deal with the sun, but we can’t?

Aren’t our bodies used to the sun anymore? Were our ancestors not always outside? OK, troglodytes were supposedly dwelling in caves, but they did come out of them from time to time, didn’t they? So, what’s the deal?

Apparently, we lose abilities if we don’t train them. I for example was thrown out of ballet classes in drama school because I didn’t train enough. So, could this apply in evolution? If we only use dictation and autocorrect to write, could we actually lose our ability to write? Could our hands shrink? If we look up everything in the internet instead of learning it from books, could we damage our ability to actually learn things?

And if we were to invent devices which would allow us to communicate telepathically, would that mean that our ability to hear, and to talk would suffer?

I could very much imagine an alien species that has become so intelligent that they literally only need their brains to steer computers, which steer AIs, which steer, I don’t know, anything from administrating the society to provide food (but then, would such a species need food? Or would brain food be sufficient?), to choosing your outfit (maybe caps would be a trend).

If we had AIs doing everything for us from tidying up our kitchens to working for us, could that mean that we might lose the ability to…you know, everything? We would be nothing but brains, but unable to do anything without the help of our AIs, because we would have no limbs, no abilities left, and we would have forgotten everything about how we built all of this because our AIs are storing the information, not we. We couldn’t even talk, because we would use the AIs to speak.

So should we stop using sun lotion, to prevent evolution from taking away our ability to speak? Literature (and every physician) advises us not to. It might not be such a good idea.

And maybe, if we were composed only of brains, we would at least have become intelligent enough to invent a treatment against sunburn, because that really hurts.

Conclusion: You should really use sun lotion.