Writing Workshop with Ceejay Writer
Continuity: Solid Worlds, Believable Characters
Fantasy Faire’s Fungalmire Region, The Stump Theater, Second Life
Tuesday, May 2, 2023, 3:00-4:00pm SLT – local chat, NOT voice
Ever have a character change their hair color, accent, or even gender in mid-story? And it’s not part of the plot? Oops. If your Loki-wannabe isn’t a shapeshifter or a trickster, it’s up to you to give them stability. We’ll talk about continuity in your worldbuilding, too!
Here is the complete transcript of the workshop:
Ceejay Writer: Welcome everyone! Today we’ll be talking about how to take control of continuity in your writing. This is a workshop, NOT a lecture, so please chime in at any time with questions, comments, personal experiences, additional advice, you get the idea!
For the sake of creating a reference everyone can return to anytime, I’m conducting these workshops in local chat. In about a week or so, this workshop transcript will be posted at my two sites, ceejaywriter.com (book reviews, editor-for-hire info and personal hodgepodge) and at my author site, brassbrightcity.com
If for any reason you’d like your name redacted in the transcript, just let me know. It’s no problem at all. 😊
I have a Second Life group called Ceejaytopia, where I send out announcements about all sorts of literary projects I’m involved with. I don’t send notices more than once or twice a week at most, so you won’t be overwhelmed. I invite you to join! https://world.secondlife.com/group/d85c42ac-0831-7281-abe6-79f5ce24fc92
Now, on with the good stuff!
Fictional worlds are messy, cluttered places. Sure, the view from one of those lovely maps in the front of a fantasy novel clearly shows rivers, mountains, forests and shorelines, along with markers for cities, towns and villages, but there’s a lot more to worldbuilding than figuring out the lay of the land.
If we could step into a fantasy map and walk into the nearest town, what would we see? Let’s learn how we can turn that map-marker into a living, breathing town – and keep it’s continuity steady for the duration of its place in your story.
Most importantly, we find people. Without people, there’s no reason to have a town. Well actually, I can think of a few exceptions. The discovery of a burnt-out or abandonded town can be used to advance a plot. But let’s assume for now that our town, is a thriving, populated place.
People need buildings. Most importantly, they need personal shelter. This could be a fancy house, a tent, a yurt, a crowded tenement room, or a cardboard box in a back alley. It’s up to you to provide the proper shelter for your residents. They’ll also need places to perform the tasks of their daily lives – where do they shop, drink, gossip, bank, heal, worship, gamble, amuse themselves?
As George Carlin said in his classic comedy routine ‘A Place for My Stuff’, “That’s all your house is—a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.”
What sort of stuff do our townspeople need? We can assume they’ve got everything they need to cook a meal, something to sleep on, clothes to wear, and currency or barter goods to get more stuff. Maybe they also have a library, an art collection, or musical instruments. What you write about them and their lifestyle will dictate their stuff.
Once you, the author, give them stuff, you need to keep track of their stuff for them. No matter how many years you’ve been rolling your story around in your head, no matter how close you feel to your characters, even you are not going to remember everything. Or, your memory may become skewed over time and as your story progresses.
If your readers notice that you’ve misremembered a detail it can pull them out of their immersive reading experience. No one wants that.
You need to start documenting all your stuff, and it’s best to do so right from the start. If you’re already well into your story, you will do yourself a favor by pausing on the writing. Go back to the beginning and read your story, while documenting all the people, places and stuff as they appear.
What’s the best way to keep track of your stuff? The best way is the way that works for you. Personally, I use a Word document that’s been intricately formatted to create a multi-level Table of Contents so I can jump easily from People to Places to Stuff, and then drill down in each section to individual items and their descriptions.
I’ve also created a section for Future Stuff. Sometimes I think of something that would be great in my story, but I don’t have a place for it yet. I file it in Future Stuff, and when I’m stuck and trying to think of something I need for the story, I often find it in the Future Stuff pile.
Robinette Waterson: Cool idea!
Ceejay Writer: It’s fun to sometimes just think about cool stuff, and put your brainstorms in there.
Fantasma Faunia nods slowly
Ceejay Writer: But that might not be the best way for you. What about index cards? A spiral-bound notepad? Some writers use the Scrivener program, which is basically a digital set of index cards that can be moved around. ANY documentation method is valid. What matters the most is that you use it, consistently.
And the world will be appreciative of your document when you are rich and famous.
You can publish IT then.
Every character, even the minor ones, should have their own character sheet. I’ve had minor characters make a comeback in other stories with a larger role, and it’s good to remember where they came from.
Common characteristics to document are full name, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, hair, eye, and skin color, height, body type, scars, piercings, and tattoos.
I recommend also including social standing (Rich? Poor? Middle class?), place of birth, parents names and occupations, siblings names and occupations, spouse info if married (the spouse, if appearing in the story, will have their own character sheet too).
Be mindful of how your character dresses. What’s their style? If they’re going to spend the entire book in one costume, that makes your job easy. But if they change clothes twice a day every day, you are going to need to keep track of their closet.
Be sure to also include all the quirks that make your characters unique. Do they have a pet? What is it and what’s it’s name? What about a favorite saying? Do they snort when they laugh, touch their hair often, fidget, stutter, bounce a nervous leg? Do they smoke? What’s their favorite food, favorite drink? What expletives do they utter when they stub their toe?
Liz Wilner: hehe…I swear like a sailor if I stub a toe
Ceejay Writer: Excellent! Maybe one of your characters can ‘borrow’ your vocabulary.
Liz Wilner: it’s…rather “salty”…LOL
Ceejay Writer: Knowing these quirks will help you keep your character consistent, and will give you lots of behaviours to make use of when writing them.
Wildstar Beaumont shakes his head
Liz Wilner: lol
Ceejay Writer: I make up steampunky sounding phrases for my characters ‘oaths’. They might be dirty, maybe not? Who knows? “By the Founders Rusty Nuts!”
This is easier than documenting your characters, and in my opinion, super fun. Each building is a character, in a way. Describe them. If it’s a bar, what’s the exterior look like? Is there a neon sign, or an old-world plank sign swinging in the wind? Describe the interior. Include any sounds (or smells) that are important. What characters live or work here?
This can get tricky. For me, it can be a time sink, since I LOVE details. My Things section includes a fully developed monetary system since my characters need money. I also created a horoscope system based on the elements, since my steampunky society places so much importance on mining metals and harnessing wind, fire, and water. All that for one scene where a character is reading her horoscope in the newspaper! (Newspapers can be characters in their own right, if necessary. My city has three, each has their own spin and bias.)
You may not need to do things to my crazy level. But you should document modes of transportation, money/barter systems, technology, regional foods and drinks, fads, fashions, and anything else that is important to your characters and gives your world its unique personality.
For me, this is the scariest part. 😀
I’m not a planner, I’m a pantser by nature, which means I write by the ‘seat of my pants’. I usually have a good idea of the big picture, but I don’t plan every step of the journey. This means that after I’ve finished my first draft, I need to start being mindful on my second pass about what day it is, if it’s day or night, and how long it takes for various events to take place.
Exact day and time may not be important to your story. Or, it might be EVERYTHING (Remember the TV series ‘24’?) I’ve found that adding ‘day/time-stamp’ information right below the chapter title is helpful for keeping myself focused. Those can be removed later as the manuscript is finalized.
For your first draft, you are totally allowed to be messy, to leave yourself notes in bright red caps, whatever you need to do to keep a grip on things.
Heck, your second draft isn’t going to be beautiful either. Third… maybe!
A few years ago, I edited a book for a client with a complicated fight scene in a baseball stadium. As I read, I struggled to follow the action, but something felt ‘off’. So I grabbed a sheet of paper and as I re-read the scene, I sketched the layout as it was described.
Turns out there were characters running up at least six flights of stairs in a small town two-level stadium. And the characters were all over the place—literally. One girl was fighting in the parking lot, then running away in left field, then somehow back at her car in the lot, and a moment later she ran past the concession stand… all in the space of about ten minutes. Her physical actions didn’t feel authentic either.
Clearly the author had gotten carried away with the fun of writing a fight and just kept piling on the action.
It’s FINE to get carried away. Write your heart out, get all that action onto a page where you can work with it.
Visualize what you’ve written as you re-read it. Play it like a movie in your mind.
At one point, I pushed my chair aside and stood up to act out each character’s described movements. Nearly gave myself a hernia. Try reaching behind your back with one arm, grabbing someone by one of their arms, and lifting them up and over your head to drop on the floor in front of you. The laws of leverage have been tossed aside – and arms just don’t bend that way.
Saffia Widdershins: LOL
Ceejay Writer: I highly recommend acting out scenes. It’s good for the book, a good stretching exercise, and fun.
Robinette Waterson: Try acting out scenes when you are writing in a coffee shop. Even if you are subtle, people look at you funny.
Ceejay Writer: Robinette! Too funny.
Ceejay Writer subtly stabs someone with a spear, then sips my latte
Liz Wilner: laughs
Robinette Waterson: I pretend I was stretching 🙂
Ceejay Writer: The point is, this is ACTION! It may be words on paper but it needs to come alive. So get into it.
Ceejay Writer: There’s a short story waiting to happen. A writer in a coffee shop writing a gigantic action scene.
Saffia Widdershins: And attracting the fascinated attention of the other patrons
Robinette Waterson facepalms.
Ceejay Writer: Maybe one guy is just dying to know what you’re doing and is bold enough to ask.
Robinette Waterson: Romance subplot!
Ceejay Writer: The author convinces him to do a mock swordfight with her. The rest of the patrons applaud. The owner throws them out.
Ceejay Writer: Meet Cute!
Robinette Waterson: Let us know when you publish that one, Ceejay!
Ceejay Writer: Hey, I just might do that. I’ve been getting into a lot of writing short stories and flash fiction lately.
Robinette Waterson: Yes, do it!
Ceejay Writer: This is the end of my formal speech part. I have some links to share but otherwise, let’s talk!
Ceejay Writer: BRACE YOURSELVES. Here comes the links. I want them to be in the chatlog for reference.
There’s a notecard with these links but I’ll also paste them here, as some people save chatlogs and this way they will be included in the transcript. (and by some people, I include myself) There’s a LOT of information and advice on the internet about the craft of writing. Here’s a few good articles I’ve come across that pertain to today’s topic.
Using Character Sheets in Fiction Writing
A Foolproof Character Cheat Sheet (With Downloadable Template)
On Writing: Creating Characters and Maintaining Continuity in Writing
George Carlin – A Place for my Stuff
Ceejay Writer: The Time Element in Telling a Story
In Defense of Worldbuilding: Or, Against Being Against Writing Tools
How Writers Can Create Continuity in Showing the Passing of Time
Action Figures Body Kun PVC Figure Model Dolls Male and Female Posable Figures
(helpful for visualizing action scenes)
Ceejay Writer: They all make good reading. I hope you get a little something out of each one.
Fantasma Faunia: a lot of good sources, thanks.
Brynn: Thank you!
Robinette Waterson: Thank you, Ceejay!
Ceejay Writer: Happy to help. So… questions? Complaints? Latte recipes?
Brynn: I have a question
Ceejay Writer: Hit me, Brynn!
Brynn: I came in a little later, so I might have missed this, but are you familiar with Campfire Writing? It’s a writing and worldbuilding system (they have a website, offline app and a mobile app) to kepp all your stuff in place. You can make time lines, cross link stuff, make webs etc. I use it, and it gives me oversight a word doc never could, even with a multi leveled index system
Fantasma Faunia whispers quietly: Cinnamon goes well with latte.
Ceejay Writer: Wow. That sounds amazing, and I have not heard of it till now! Thank you for bringing it to my attention. I am going to find it and learn more about it.
Brynn: Can I post a link here? Or rather not?
Ceejay Writer: Yay! They have a straightforward URL. https://www.campfirewriting.com/
Brynn: they do 🙂
Ceejay Writer: Links are very welcome.
Brynn: I’m sure you love it, and a major part of it is free, and for the rest, you only pay what you use
Ceejay Writer: I only write on my desktop computer, or paper, but I know authors that fly out the words on their phones and other devices.
Ceejay Writer: I’m doing my “I have a new toy” dance.
Saffia Widdershins laughs
Ceejay Writer: As if I NEED a new toy…. wait, I do.
Brynn: To organise stuff better, toys are always welcome
Ceejay Writer: Any other questions, comments, toys, beverages?
Dor: Kind of a random question..any advice on how to deal with a writing block? I have an idea..have a set, actors, etc…but just can’t seem to make a story come out…probably overthinking it lol
Liz Wilner: have you ever tried the voice to print software? so you can speak your story…then read it to edit
Robinette Waterson: Must run. Great presentation, Ceejay!
Ceejay Writer: That’s a good suggestion.
Ceejay Writer: Sometimes I free form type, as if I’m on a road trip with all my characters, and we’re just talking.
Dor: neat idea!
Dor: ty ty!
Saffia Widdershins: 🙂
Fantasma Faunia: @Dor joining causes and writing for a theme, an event helps. You get warm again.
Saffia Widdershins: I need some good, free voice to text software
Dor: Ty Fantasma
Ceejay Writer: I learned long ago that driving prompts my creativity. Not sure why, but it does.
Liz Wilner: dragon makes a good one
Ceejay Writer: (New Ceejaytopia members, I’m giving you access to other fun titles)
Dor: Thank you!
Ceejay Writer: This is my last workshop for the Faire, but hopefully Saffia will invite me back for the next one.
Saffia Widdershins: YES
Saffia Widdershins: You are booked NOW
Ceejay Writer: Take your time, think about it… laughs. Will need to settle on some new topics! Suggestions welcome.
Dor: Thanks Ceejay for the info!
Ceejay Writer: You’re welcome! I enjoyed all of you.
Saffia Widdershins: Thank you, Ceejay! Great advice 🙂