Category Archives: World Building

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

It’s been a while, a long while. Well, I’m sorry. Next week, I’ll explain where I was but for now, here’s an update of of my progress in the ERC.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Having never read a Sherklock Holmes novel makes my adventure into House of Silk strange because I am well acquainted with his many, many popular incarnations throughout the media today (and my childhood). That said, I probably will check out the originals after this because it was quite fun and has been said to stay in the same vein (albeit 2x longer for current audiences).

I found Watson and Holmes interesting characters to read and tried very hard to separate them from the BBC’s Watson and Holmes and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s interpretation, though I think the BBC’s modernized men would fit quite well into Horowitz’s world. The story line shocked me but overall the book was really enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it and would love to hear what Holmes’s fans have to say about it!

Extremes: Surviving the World's Harshest Environments

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Middleton’s book is a telling of how some indigenous peoples live in extreme environments. I read this to research survival to help my boss write a survival unit. Middleton is a geographer so he has a great perspective on the actual environments but he’s also entertaining to read. He has the knowledge but knows he’s a Brit that couldn’t survive a day on his own. If you want to learn a little about the world, specifically Greenland (arctic wasteland), the Congo (jungle), the Tenere Desert (part of the Sahara), and Papua (swamp). I kept a great many notes to help me with my book so this is a great piece for research when world-building.

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’d heard good things about this book, it even has a 3.99/5 on! You know what though? That was all phooey. It is a bad book. The “mystery” is melodramatic and a bad play at a crazy dystopian-style experiment. The main character is horrible and unrelatable. I have one word to explain this book and that word is “stupid” if I’m going to expend a few more, those would be “a waste of time.” If you’re curious, read the Wikipedia page for it.

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Human Body at the Limits of Human Endurance

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is another book I did on survival research and it’s amazing. Written this time from the point of view of an adventure-seeking medical doctor, Kamler explains quite a few things about surviving in extreme cold, extreme heat, and many other (including space). It’s another book that is not only entertaining but educational. Another one to keep an eye on for world-building research!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’m a bit on the fence about this book. I may read the sequel in the future, if I get through a bunch of other books and I remember to come back to it. The thing is that the main character has blue hair. Now, I recognize that it’s explained and yada yada yada but there is just something about characters having blue hair that bothers me. I don’t know what it is, it’s a me thing. Anyway, this is a decent story. It’s got a lot of interesting plot points but I feel like it’s only touches the surface of the story. If I had the sequel on my night stand, I’d read it. But I don’t and I’m not rushing out to buy it any time soon.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Links: Author Page,, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Sedaris’s memoir is entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a comedy because I didn’t laugh out loud at it at all and definitely not as much as other books. That said, it’s a good read. Sedaris is a good story teller with great moments to talk about in his life. I find his honesty enjoyable and the truth behind his experiences is really cool, for lack of a better word. He has some really unique experiences but he moves through them as a lazy human that makes the stories real and relatable.


Planning Your Story

Sometimes ideas come to us in the dead of the night and we write down a sentence, a paragraph, an idea. We get names from those characters come to life. But what’s next? What happens after you have a one paragraph or one page synopsis?

Research and planning.

After dredging up an old (worked on in high school) story, I thought–why not? It’s about time I got this idea out.

The first thing I needed to do was develop my own world of magic. I’m going to let you in on one type of magic that I decided to include: Feral Priests. Now, a feral priest can do three things: can communicate with animals, can share bodies with an animal, and can steal the abilities of an animal. Cool, cool but there has to be a cost or the world is just going to be a nutty, nutty place filled with superheroes. So, when feral priests speak with animals, they lose their voice for a time, when they share the body of an animal, they loose control over their own for a while, and if they steal the abilities of an animal, they kill it. I added four other priests with equivalent abilities and costs. It’s very important to set up your magic system so that you don’t run around with invincible characters (which I originally had).

So, then the MC was Aidan, but that name kind of took off so I rooted around the internet for the right name. I basically fleshed out the first few characters with Welsh names:

Cadogen (Cade), Mairwen, Bethan, Leolin, Owain, Roderick, Efion.

Then, I needed a city name for the starting place. I went to a site and just started writing down the names of cities in Wales that I liked:

Cardiff (Doctor Who?), Swansea, Caernaten, Brecon, Kilgetty

Then I started mixing them up:

Braed Macaediff Kilfair Caelfair Caelgetty Kilcaedon Braegetty Kill Caekilwen

No, my story is about a journey, so I built cities and name lists for each city. Then, shaped the plot–each city must be different! So, three cities, three unique experiences. Research for my first city is under-weigh: I’m researching Rome (which I’m familiar with anyway, thanks college!). As I research Rome, I think about how I can use their culture to supplement my story and flesh it out–maybe I’ll have a Colosseum, if there is a Colosseum then I’ll have to use it for it’s original purpose, for distracting citizens. So will my heroes fall to the trap and have to escape or will they break it? Either way, how will the trap be designed and how will they escape or break it?

After I figure out what the three cities are going to throw at my heroes, I’ll start working on a plot outline. I really like this set-up for the original plotting process:

I used this for the Abassi Expedition, the basic idea is that if you have 40 scenes, Act 1 is 10, Act 2 is 20, and Act 3 is 10. Or 60 Scenes: 15|30|15.

I broke out of this alter, but the idea of plotting this way really helped me set up. There are other plot charts:

This is another good image to have in mind as you plan, but it’s not as detailed. One thing, however, it makes important is the idea of constant upward movement–everything leading up to the climax must be rising action, if it’s not why have it there? It bogs the story down. Sure, it’s interesting, but if it’s not helping reach the climax, it’s a waste of space.

Again, I use that first chart back there and pick out all of the things listed starting with the Climax. What is the climax, why does it happen, and how do I get my characters there? Jason at Writing Possibilities also reminded me to find the motivation for my characters. And when I plotted the Abassi Expedition, Sabrina had me set up three struggles or conflicts for my characters: physical, mental, emotional.

As of right now, I spent a few hours Saturday just touching the surface of magic, character, and setting. Writing a novel, especially one in speculative fiction, is hard work. It’s not just sitting at the computer and writing. It’s planning, researching, and backtracking.

My next step is to use my new Campaign Cartographer to design my world and City Designer to work on the settings so that I can shape my plot.

Updates on The Abassi Expedition

I haven’t shared a lot lately about my WIP so I thought I’d spend today giving an update.

First, I finished my first draft in the middle of December!

To celebrate… I printed out the first five chapters and started my revisions…

My first big change came in the form of developing two satellite characters (the parents of MC Alice Hadley). I read through the prologue searching out passive verbs (ick!) and -ly words (boo!). Afterwards, I thought, “These two characters who are are essential to the plot really need to be fattened up!” So I developed their physical image, their motivation in the prologue, their mannerisms. Then I got to work. I re-wrote the prologue which can found on my WIP Page. I’m very pleased with the change.

With chapter one, it’s really the first introduction to New London so I wanted to do something really important with it. I took some inspiration from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and used the social structure of New London to tell its story… I’m also very pleased with it:

The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky as wide swaths of sunlight illuminated the fresh paint, perfectly lain bricks, and smooth trim. Parliament lay in the center of the colony with its clock tower rising high into the sky, a beacon of order and direction visible from everywhere in the colony. The ministers, lords, and ladies all woke to their staff ushering them to new committees and meetings while workers diffused through the city collecting garbage, fixing cobbles, repairing buildings. Down the streets, apprentices lumbered into the light while their master’s still slept. The farmers were already on their way towards the fields that blew and shifted in the wind, ready to welcome the warm sunlight. The slums, hidden by the rest of the city, slept into the day.

To create that, though, I had to figure out the social structure and the layout of the city. This is the best I’ve got because designing cities is nigh impossible:

I do not have any colored pencils so it’s not colored but basically the top part is a lake with two rivers that descend through the colony. The hexagon shape is the barrier that keeps the colony safe from the wildlife of Kepler and filters the air so that the humans can survive on this alien planet.

My biggest goals with this revision are: eliminating passive verbs, catching POV violations, trying to get everything into place. I’m trying to rush (I’m not doing a good job of it though) so I can finish with a second draft by January. The big thing is to get it readable for beta-readers because the writing process means that some things that you wrote in the beginning don’t match up with what developed towards the end. Writing in itself is discovery so the whole thing needs to be molded for the best story. So far, I’m doing really well and happy with my updates.

Today, I wanted to work on chapter six but got derailed trying to figure out the military that two MCs and one satellite character is in. William is a captain, his father is the Lord General, and Morris is a Lieutenant. I wanted to know how big their army should be for the 400k population of New London (I put it at 20k) and what that meant for the structure. I also developed the enlisted and officer structure. The most fun part, however are the drawings I made for their uniforms and rank insignia:

On the far left is the universal combat uniform. You can see I have a little triangle on the left sleeve, that’s a lazy person’s drawing of the star in the center of the shoulder strap in the center. The right sleeve has the slashes for ranking. The officer’s uniforms have shoulder straps with insignia, while the enlisted uniforms do not.

On the right is the dress uniform which is the one that William most prefers (while Morris prefers the left uniform). I’m not done with it. I think the shoes should be shinier, have spats, etc. But for the most part it has the same shoulder strap in the center, is worn maybe with the flight cap on the right (the triangle one). Anytime you see a weird squiggly half-star, that’s my way of saying “some sort of insignia should be here.” But on the hats, I’m worried it might not work.

The center image is the shoulder strap. The circle at the top is meant to be a silver button that is a relief of the planet of Kepler (known to us real life people as Kepler 22b). The insignia of the sun is meant to be a star. I wanted the choices of insignia to reflect the new planet, not the old. This is really one of the first places that I’ve gone with the sci-fi thing which feels great! Because The Abassi Expedition is steampunk, I’ve tried to stick with mostly Victorian style, so I played with the insignia a lot. The other two symbols I used are a symbol of the parthenon for the governent and a scythe over a rapier.


Okay, that’s the last of my crappy drawings I’m going to submit you too. I hope that your eyes aren’t bleeding!

If you have any suggestions for city-planning, revision, uniform design, etc. Please let me know!

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, @MelanieSokol, you can get more frequent updates!

Reblog Wednesday: The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam

I was browsing through the fantasy thread and found this great post that made me think. How often do we find blogs that make you think? So I decided to share it!

Azra Winters’s blog is a writer’s blog and he writes in multiple genres. The post I want to share is the Fantasy Novelist’s Exam. I love it, it’s great.

I decided to give you my thoughts about my WIP for the first 5 questions.

1. Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?
2. Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?
3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it?
4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?
5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?

via The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam.

1. Does nothing happen in the first 50 pages? Well, what’s the first 50 pages. Is it the first 50 manuscript pages? That’s about 150 words a page so the first 7500 words. Or is it the first 50 paperback pages? That’s 250 words a page so 12500 words. Which is it? Either way, 7500 words in SOMETHING should happen. But what is something? What is nothing? Well, I assume this means: Are your first 50 pages explication/world-building?  I like to tie explication and world-building in with my story. So, something happens in my opinion. But I know for speculative fiction, world-building and explication can take up a lot of space. So watch out!

2. Is your main character a young farmhand with a mysterious parentage? The first two farmhands I think of are Luke Skywalker and Codex Alera‘s Tavi and both, dun dun dun, have mysterious parentage. So do my main characters fit into this? None are farmhands, but Alice does have mysterious parentage. What can you do? I say don’t worry about fitting one but make sure you don’t fit both!

3. Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn’t know it? I know we’ve all encountered this trope but does MY WIP do this? Not exactly. So that’s good… right? But what happens if your characters DO fall into that? I don’t know. You must have epic fantasy on your hands, ha. You can’t win them all, right? Although, Codex Alera‘s Tavi does fit this one too… (Ruh roh, Butcher).

4. Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy? It IS fantasy, come on.  I don’t have a great power, but the other two I kind of do follow but it is pretty hard to escape this trope.

5. Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world? Nope. Uh uh. I’m safe, but are you?

At the end of this list, you’re going to encounter a story that does at least one thing. But the big question is so what? Codex Alera‘s fit a lot of these tropes, does that make it bad? No, it’s an epic fantasy series. These are kind of the typical epic fantasy cues. That doesn’t make them bad. It makes them fit a genre. It’s HOW it’s done that makes it great.

So when reading through this list and answering it for yourself, make sure you ask: is it worth it? Is it worth it to fit tropes? Is it interesting? This list points out challenges that you’ll face in your genre, not a strict list that says, “Change your WIP!” Keep that in mind every time you read ANYTHING about writing and when getting feedback from anyone.

I’d like to leave you with some eye candy. Here’s another inspiration for my WIP:

What does Steampunk mean to me?

I was browsing around WordPress procrastinating (of course) when I happened upon someone who was spending all of October talking about steampunk, which is the genre my novel is being placed in. I really enjoyed her questioning of Doctor Who (one of my favorite shows)–is it steampunk?

Well, since my subgenre IS steampunk, I checked out the rest of her posts about Steampunk October and really enjoyed an article where she gave a definition of the subgenre:

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction involving a reimagining of the late Victorian era as a time of innovation powered by extant technology, such as steam, clockworks, repurposed mechanical items, and is at times also infused with either time travel or “scientific romance” in the style of H.G. Wells or Mary Shelley or even the trajectory of romantic horror moving from Poe to Lovecraft into the early twentieth century pulp fiction auteurs. There are also variations on these ideas that set the action in either other dimensions, universes, or the future, though there is usually still a strong Victorian aesthetic at work.

Steampunk October: What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?.

I know some of my blog readers are friends so they aren’t entirely familiar with the genre so this is a part shout out to you and partially a note for me. When working in a genre, especially in your first novel, it’s vital to actually work in that genre (or sub genre as it were). In fact, in Orson Scott Card’s “How to write Science Fiction and Fantasy” he addresses the same idea: When he submitted a short story set on another planet (though that vignette didn’t mention it) to a Science Fiction magazine, it was rejected because it was fantasy (a character had powers that were never explained as science based, though they were). Later, as a well established writer, I can push the boundary, but as I submit my first manuscript (next year), I have to keep in mind what genre/subgenre I’m trying to publish and what that means when it comes to submitting my manuscript. It ALSO means that as I work through revisions, I need to look at the aspects of my novel that tie to this subgenre and those that don’t.

I feel like I’m rambling a bit here but I guess the idea is for me to say to myself: Okay, Melanie, as you write you need to think about the steampunk genre and what elements you’re using that match or don’t match and what that means. So far, I don’t feel like I have any large issues fitting my subgenre, but that doesn’t mean I won’t or don’t need to keep re-examining my writing.

I really have fallen in love with steampunk fantasy. To include fantasy, you’d have to have a magical element (Ie: Gail Carriager‘s “Parasol Protectorate” series, Nickolodeon’s “Legend of Korra,” and Brandon Sanderson‘s new “Alloy of Law” sequel to the Mistborn series) which I’m not including, THIS time. I think I really want to explore using it but part of me worries as I dabble in something like steampunk which to me is very fashion conscious, how much I can talk about the fashion. I want to walk the line between “How is this steampunk?” and “I GET it, stop hitting me over the head with gears and cogs!”

I think at the end of this meandering post, I ask the question: “How do insert the artistic elements of steampunk into my writing without drowning my reader in unwanted information?”

WorldBuilding: How to Create a City

I found this amazing article on world building that I absolutely loved. For me, this is extremely vital as my first setting is a colony on another planet. I move on to explore the rest of the planet, but a huge chunk of my story (the first 25 scenes) is based in the city.

My favorite line from the entire post is

But until you get it on paper, you can’t fix it. Even if all you can do it draw little boxes and label them, it’s a start.

That’s kind of the entire theme of my writing world right now.

Anyway, here’s the article: WorldBuilding: How to Create a City.