06 September 2017

Worldbuilding Resources

By David Revoy / Blender Foundation - Own work, CC BY 3.0, Link

In my last post I mentioned the decision to make my own World Book, a manual to consult as I continue rewriting The Name and the Key and its companion, The Step and the Walk. 

I wanted to share with you some of the resources I used specifically in making my book in the hopes it will help you with your own worldbuilding. 


  • World-building Workbook by Vivien Reis. Reis, author of The Elysian Prophecy, developed a downloadable workbook with her article "The Only World-building Guide You'll Ever Need." Its simple setup allows you to write in basic details about Geography, Climate, Major Cities and Landmarks, and more. There is also a section for you to draw your own Topographical Map. Download the workbook here!
  • Creating Stunning Worlds by Alyssa Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth, the author of the upcoming The Eleventh Tradehas a detailed post, "80 Questions for Worldbuilding." If you sign up at her site, you'll get a free copy of her ebook, Creating Stunning Worlds. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get the book. You can unsubscribe from her list at any time, but it's worth keeping because of access to future worksheets and guides. 
  • Resources for Writers/The Coterie by Lady Writer (Eva Deverell).  If you love using worksheets, this site is a goldmine. Eva Deverell, also known as Lady Writer, has an extensive list of guides for writers. She not only includes worldbuilding, but she has separate worksheets covering characterization, plot, genres, brainstorming, and more. You can find these guides under the section For Writers. The Coterie is an additional resource that includes every single worksheet she has ever made, plus special access to private Pinterest boards, ebooks, and more. You do have to sign up for The Coterie but it's free, and totally worth it.
  • World Building Worksheet by NY Book Editors. From the article "Fantasy World Building 101: How to Create a Breathing World for Your Fantasy Novel," this worksheet also asks specific questions to get you thinking about the basics of your original world. You can sign up for their email letter for tips with fantasy, or download the resource here.

Web Articles

  • The Ultimate Guide to World Building: How to Write Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Real-Life Worlds from Writer's Edit. Read it here.
  • 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding from Charlie Jane Anders at i09. Read it here.
  • The Rules of Quick and Dirty Worldbuilding from Annalee Newitz at i09. Read it here.
  • 12 Questions to Ask Yourself About the System of Magic in Your Fantasy Novel from Mette Ivie Harrison at i09. Read it here.
  • The Worldbuilding Archive from Mythcreants. Read all the articles here.
  • Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions by Patricia C. Wrede from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Read it here.

Other Resources

  • Behind the Name. This is my go-to guide for naming characters, cities, and countries. I do have Sherrilyn Kenyon's Character Naming Sourcebook but it's back in America, and I find myself relying on this website more and more because you can customize searches for gender or unisex names; by meaning; and by culture.  Check it out here.
  • Pinterest.  You can search for and compile more resources on worldbuilding and writing; you can also make your own boards with images and ideas for your worlds; and you can review other people's boards for inspiration. I make individual boards for each of my novels and load them up with images that evoke the world I'm going for. My board for The Name and the Key is here, and the board for The Step and the Walk is here
  • Canva. I used Canva for designing the visuals I put into the World Book, particularly with including images that inspire the source material. Because I'm all about designing the World Book to be like an actual book, I put a lot of effort into how it looks, and Canva makes graphic design really easy. I've been a long-time user. Take a look here.

I take a lot of inspiration from real-life locations when it comes to setting in my books. I have a blog series on the site called "Worldbuilding: Fantastic Settings & Real-life Inspiration" that chronicles the various places that inform the creation of the cities and villages in my stories.  A good deal of places I've personally experienced make their way into much of my writing, such as Bath, England, Tenby, Wales, and South Street Seaport in New York City. Check out the series and let me know what real-life settings shape your own work!

03 September 2017

The Making of the World Book

Image from The USC Cinematic Arts' Worldbuilding Institute.

With The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk, I was always very strict about how I would build the world for the series. It was my fervent belief (and mostly still is) that I didn't want to spend a lot of time in the book talking about the world, and I didn't want it to invade the story to the degree it would undermine characters and plot.

As I've written before, I'm pretty comfortable with letting readers understand my books are "Once upon a time, in a long-ago kingdom..." and then they would fill in the blanks themselves. I would give clues to the time period and culture through syntax and descriptions of things like clothing, technology, the architecture and landscape, the flora and fauna, and so on. What I didn't want to include were maps, invented languages, and created races with unique names. I wanted a world that was an alternate to our own and therefore I didn't want to extensively rebuild a version of ourselves. I wanted simplicity!

However, when the novels transformed during rewrites, suddenly my story had far more magic than before, with gods and other mythical beings making appearances. I wanted my cities to be stranger and more unique. Perhaps the largest change of all involved the story's major magic conceit. It was based strongly off of alchemy, and Andresh was its primary user. But once Andresh's goal in the novel changed, the magic became more complex--specifically about the birth of gods and parallel universes.

A photo of my World Book, showing some of the gods I created.

Since the books' magic involved the creation of new worlds, I needed to have a better understanding of what it actually means to make a universe. Thus, the World Book began. 

A lot of speculative fiction writers create some sort of manual for their fantasy and science fiction universes to help track what's happening. My World Book is a tool to:
It's been fun making the World Book--more than I expected--but I made a personal rule for when it comes to the information I created my manual:

Only 15% of the World Book is allowed to show up in the novels.

I created this rule to avoid the dreaded information dump that plagues a lot of fiction. Info dump is a  controversial term whose usage has ballooned on its own over the years. There are writers who argue that info-dumping is necessary, and that when it works, it can be magical

I still like the term because it suggests that not all details are needed at one time, and that you must watch for sensory and information overload. You don't want to derail readers from the story; you don't want to give them an excuse to put down your book. 

Whenever I've given critiques and reflected on my own work, I usually ask writers: Do we need to know this right now, or in the near future? Does it advance the plot or develop the character? Can you sprinkle in the details over the course of the novel, when they are most relevant? 

As inspiring and exciting as my World Book is to me, I estimate that 85% of it will never be relevant to the plot: the details therein have nothing to do with my characters, their scenes, their motivation, purpose, or stories. 

My World Book is written mostly for me, for my benefit and enjoyment. If it's not for my readers, it won't (and shouldn't) go in.


I'll have a follow-up post on how you can build your own World Book, with plenty of links to helpful sources (and lots of worksheets). Stay tuned!

02 September 2017

Here We Go Again.

From Big Hero 6 via Writer's Relief
Lord love a duck, it's been ages since I've last posted! Some of it had to do with the crazy technology issues I've had (internet has been such a struggle for me over here, along with a super-fritzy laptop). Most of it has to do with my number-one life problem, time management. 

I have to admit, I've been consistently busy since I started working in Japan. Contrary to what a lot of stuff floating around on the internet says, my job as an assistant language teacher requires a lot of work on my part. I am just as busy as I was back in the USA as an adjunct prof at NCSC, but the nature of my work has changed significantly. 

I have a lot of creative control with what I decide to teach. I plan all of my lessons myself and pretty much run my own classes with my JTEs assisting me. I spend most of my downtime at my schools making the things we need for the next class (I pretty much live at the laminating machine at school). I am also wrapping up TEFL certification and other online courses, on top of sneaking in some travel and relaxation where I can.  

I am always planning, making, and doing...but I'm having such a great time with it. Teaching over here has forced me to tap even further into my creativity and I find myself coming up with things I never would have imagined to try when I was a teacher back home.  On top of that, it forces me to be creative on the fly. It's been a very long time since I was able to come up with an idea on the spot, and the ability to improvise is very much needed for this line of work. 

I've been writing again, and more regularly than I have in a long, long time. (Just not on this website. Oops.) I find that when I am unhappy with my life and under a great deal of stress, writing becomes insanely difficult and I stop making time for it. For a couple years now (!!!) my work was like an equation I couldn't solve. I felt like I was on the edge of coming to some sort of understanding about it, and I vaguely knew what I needed to do, but just couldn't figure out how. 

Because my creative gears are whirring again, I'm tackling a lot of problems in my earlier works. I also started worldbuilding my novels from scratch, and abandoned some major ideas I'd been working with for a long time with my thesis novel and its sequels. Some of what I've abandoned had been a core part of my personal beliefs around writing in the fantasy genre, so it's like a shock to my system. That's long enough to be its own post. 

Since coming to Japan I've rewritten chunks of my books, and now I've  recently taken a pause from them to create what I'd like to call a World Book. I actually never wanted to do something like this, because I was of the mindset that if it wasn't necessary to the story, you just don't include it (I have earlier posts on this site railing against appendices and maps as a requirement for the fantasy genre). It is fun to worldbuild but if you get lost in the excitement of it, a lot of that will leak onto the page in the form of info-dumping. 

I've always believed that when I write, the world should be secondary to character and plot. And yet, I'm making this massive worldbuilding portfolio of things that will likely never make it into the books. But I think I just need to pour it all out of my head, and the understanding that comes from it will continue to help me figure out what my books are missing, and where the stories will go. 

I'm happy to continue my writing adventures, and I hope to slowly kick this site back into gear. Please look forward to it! o(*>ω<*)o

28 January 2017

"Coppelius" is published in Synaeresis!

Synaeresis issue one now available!
Read "Coppelius" here.
I am pleased to announce that my poem "Coppelius" is a part of a new online poetry and arts journal, Synaeresis. I am so happy to be in the company of talented artists and writers and am thankful to see my poem in print.

The first issue is available now! You can find it on Scribd, Archive.Org (which lets you send to Kindle or Nook), and Issuu

There is also a call for submissions for their second issue is you wish to submit your poetry or art for publication. 

About Synaeresis

From the journal: "Synaeresis is an online journal showcasing literary and artistic talent from London Ontario, Canada, United States, and from around the world. Though poetry is predominant, there is also flash fiction, photography, and original artwork. Published by Harmonia Press of London, Ontario." It is edited by Andreas Gripp.

About "Coppelius"

"Coppelius" is inspired by German author E.T.A. Hoffmann's "The Sandman," which is a short story you can read here. "The Sandman" dates from 1816 and is arguably one of the earliest works of macabre fantasy to feature elements of modern science fiction (automata), along with works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

The contributors to issue one of Synaeresis.
"The Sandman" is also famous in Sigmund Freud's essay on "The Uncanny;" in fact Freud writes, "Hoffmann is in literature the unrivalled master of conjuring up the uncanny" (9).  Freud explains that the uncanny "derives its terror not from something externally alien or unknown but--on the contrary--from something strangely familiar" (Morris). It's the feeling of something being not quite right, of something being off-kilter. This feeling, in a nutshell, is cognitive dissonance, and Hoffmann is a master of taking something familiar to us and warping it enough that it no longer represents what we know it to be.

My poem is the personal narrative of Dr. Coppelius, and while he mentions the automaton Olimpia, the real genius of the invention is, of course, the "eyes." And as I write in my poem, "eyes are not a window, but a mirror."

Please enjoy, and thank you so much for your support!

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. "The Uncanny." The “Uncanny” (1919): 1-21. MIT.edu. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web.

Morris, David. "The Uncanny and the Fantastic." The Uncanny and the Fantastic. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

04 January 2017

What It's Like to Work on an Anime: "Skip Beat!"

From the Kickstarter page for Skip Beat!
In my other post, I mentioned that one of the projects I'd been working on was actually kind of a big deal.☺ I am a small part of the official North American localization of the shoujo anime Skip Beat!, which is being released by Pied Piper, Inc. after licensing the series from TV Tokyo.

Here's ANN's description of the plot:
"Kyoko followed her true love and childhood friend Sho to Tokyo so she could help him reach his dream of becoming an idol. She cleans, cooks, works three jobs and does nothing for herself because she loves him so much, but gets nothing in return. Still, she remains by his side. But then one day she goes unannounced to his agency with a delivery, and overhears him talking about her; he reveals to his manager that he only took her with him as a maid, and that he doesn't care for her at all. Upon hearing this, Kyoko doesn't just sit around and cry. She cuts and dyes her hair, changes her clothes and attitude and thus begins her journey to join showbiz and have her revenge against Sho."
Of course, there's more to this story than a simple "jilted lover seeks revenge" plot. As Ann Yamamoto writes on the Kickstarter website, 
"it's the story of humble 16-year-old Kyoko Mogami unleashing her true talents to become a powerhouse actress.[...]  She’s passionate, wacky, vulnerable, and bold – sometimes all in the same scene. The story is driven by Kyoko discovering her true love – but we’re not talking about a boilerplate romance. Kyoko's pride comes first! [...] Skip Beat! stands on its own with a funny, always surprising heroine. The characters surrounding Kyoko are just as compelling, and they grow as people in the same way that she does. The universality of her story inspires intense passion among the series' fans and transcends the typical shoujo demographics. With Skip Beat!, finding yourself comes BEFORE falling in love...that message is empowering. And be warned, Skip Beat! has been known to change lives. Once Kyoko's gutsiness gets under your skin, you just might find yourself doing something a little crazy..."
I joined the Kickstarter campaign as soon as I heard about it, but to be honest, I had only heard of Skip Beat! and hadn't watched the series yet. This was one of those shows whose name was uttered with reverence at convention panels and in fun conversations, so I donated money as a backer simply because I want more anime to come to the USA. ☺ 

But I found the series on Crunchyroll and started watching right after I donated. and really enjoyed it. I don't really watch shoujo normally--I tend to enjoy dark, emotional series with a lot of action--so I was pleasantly surprised with how fun it was, and happy with a lot of the show's messages. 

In June I signed my contract to work on the proofreading subs team, and initially worked on three episodes (the other episodes were divided among other team members). I checked for spelling and grammar and made sure to catch any language issues in the English subtitles with the eyes of a hawk. Once I let Ann know about my English background (two degrees and my job teaching college English), I got bumped from initial proofreading to final proofreading--meaning I was the last line of defense with subtitling before my supervisor approved my work and sent things off to the next department. She wrote, "you're like a secret weapon for Skip Beat!," which made my day. 

While I continued to check episodes for grammar, awkward language constructs, punctuation, spelling, and other typos, my new responsibility involved checking for the timing in which subtitles appear. This is actually really challenging, because you have to have an eye for details--it's not only checking to see if the subtitles visually make sense when characters start speaking (as in, mouths moving), but I also listened repeatedly to make sure the subtitles also timed well when the audio of actors' voices kicked in. On top of that, you have to make sure there is enough time for viewers to be able to read the subtitles on their own, and then there's the technical aspect with how things work on DVDs versus Blu-Ray--timing/encoding differs slightly for each. 

This has been a rewarding challenge for me. In my own writing, it is tricky for me to catch my own mistakes (see "Why It's So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos") but my eagle eyes kick into overdrive when I edit others' work. The challenge comes from trying to make the sentences not only correct, but sound as best as they possibly can. The other challenge comes from dealing with the repetition required to get things right. I watched 30-second scenes over and over and over again, and sometimes I would spend at least two hours on a 24-minute episode checking my own edits and the timing for the billionth time.

I beam with a strange sort of pride when I see something I rewrote end up in the final cuts of the subtitles, and I know when I see my name in the production credits for the show, I will jump up and down like a little girl, because it's going to feel like "Wow! I made it! This is real! I am a part of something big!" ...even if I the part I played in it was on the smaller side of things. 

This series is looking up to become something huge, though. The talent involved with it is impressive, the support of the backers is impressive, and it's coming together greatly. 

I leave you with the teaser trailer so you can get excited for this series just as much as I am:

It is my great hope that working on Skip Beat! opens a door that will lead me to working on localizing other anime for audiences outside of Japan. It's been a lot of fun!

03 January 2017

How's the Writing Life? An Update.

Photo (c) Clark Young via Unsplash.

The Name and the Key

I've got to say, my Nanowrimo revisions goal was not met, as I feared but somewhat expected. I hoped to revise my entire novel, The Name and the Key, but instead sort of sank into a loooong, thoughtful ponder on how to redo the book and make the changes agents had suggested in my lovely, personalized rejections (this is actually a really good sign as far as rejections go!).

The problem was I had a major plot disaster on my hands, and trying to solve it felt like balancing complex equations. I still haven't quite solved it, but the fact that I've come to these conclusions actually makes me feel pretty optimistic about what needs to be done:

  • As much as I would like it, I don't think I can make Worldwalker Tales into a trilogy, at least not at this juncture. The more I work on it and plot away, the more it seems like my two books, The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk will be the only works. However, they will probably be a little bit longer than what I've originally written as I cut but add more events simultaneously.
  • The third book I wanted to make, The Eye and the Storm, has no plot. Trying to put plot elements from an unrealized third book into the first and second (to build continuity) was really painful and I just couldn't make it work. The little bit that I did have planned required me to add an enormous supernatural element with Lily that always sounded interesting (possession! dual natures!), but the more I thought about it, the more effort and skill it would take to dazzle the readers with it, and I realized this is beyond my skill as a beginning author. 
  • One of the issues had to do with keeping Lily's abilities a secret from her family, and I had no resolution to this (because you can never hide a secret that big!). In my thesis version of The Name of the Key, in a struggle to meet my graduation deadline, I sort of copped out and did one of those "you inherited this power and it's amazing" tropes and it just feels disappointing. With such a clichéd foundation, there's no way I could run with this into the third book. Instead I'm going to have the family be completely aware of her abilities, be occasionally afraid of it, and worry for her mental health and well-being.  I am cutting an enormous plot from Books 1 and 2 but I think it's for the best. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in his advice to writers, "Keep it simple" and "have the guts to cut." I'm doing both. 
  • Because of this character change for Lily, this will completely change the ending of the novel, which also felt like a cop-out because it ended too quickly and readers didn't entirely understand the climactic scenes in the Black Gate. 
  • Most of the middle drags and so does the beginning. I can probably get to the climactic scene faster and add the ending I wanted for Book Three to Book Two. 
Lots of work, but I am finally, FINALLY figuring out what I need to do. 

The Step and the Walk


  • This is one I've been quiet about. I wrote this poem in 2015 for an anthology of fiction and poetry about "cruel inventions." It is inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Sandman"and it is a work I am proud of. However, it was rejected for the anthology. This was another good rejection in that it was personalized and while they liked it and discussed it at length, it didn't mesh well with the theme of the anthology, which I understood.
  • When I got to Japan, one of my goals was to get back into writing and get some more work published after a long dry spell of nothing. I decided to rewrite the poem, including redoing the title, a couple months ago and resubmit. I sent it to two other literary journals and it was rejected again. I don't think it needs another rewrite, but I do think I am sending it to the wrong types of journals, in that I have a tone and style mismatch with them. I will keep resubmitting it, but to publishers of speculative or Gothic fiction instead of literary fiction, and I hope I can find it a home somewhere. 
  • Update (January 13, 2017) Well...this just found a home with Synaeresis and its inaugural issue! More details forthcoming.

While the writing itself has been a struggle, I have been and will be working on some major projects as proofreader/editor.

Skip Beat!

  • I am part of a very mainstream project--an anime called Skip Beat! I am one of the final proofreaders for the episodes subtitles. While the series is subtitled in English and available on Crunchyroll, I can tell you that the official North American Release by Pied Piper, Inc. includes completely rewritten subtitles (some of which I have personally rewritten) with tightened language, timing, and grammar. Since this is such a huge project, I will have a separate post up for it soon! The DVD/Blu-Ray will be released this year, so stay tuned!

A Top-Secret Project that I Will Only Vaguely Allude To

  • I will be project editor for a...uh...*grown-up* PC game where I will edit and proofread the English translation. Due to the mature content of the game, I will be credited under a pseudonym. ;)
Both of these projects come from the world of Japanese anime and manga, and while at the moment I am not being monetarily compensated (but given credit and recognition), I am hoping this leads to a path where I can work on localization and editing professionally. 

If I can get a handle on learning Japanese while I am in Japan (although this has been really, really difficult for me), a long-term goal would be getting into translation of anime and manga. That would be really cool, as I love these things very much, and it would be a dream come true to be involved in bringing this wonderful media from Japan to the English-speaking world. This, of course, is a very long-term goal, one that will take years, but I feel like I'm starting to get on the right track with this.