The Art of Worldbuilding, Part I

by Stephen Nelson

Reading a short story or novel pulls the reader into the world which the authour has made for the characters. That is the beauty of imagination. To make a person believe they are in the world of the characters. Worldbuilding can be as small as a room or a boat on the ocean. Other stories and novels can be set in a fictional city or even on a planet.

Each genre has its aspects of worldbuilding. An historical novel regardless of its subgenre like mystery or romance has to have some accuracy in its description of society, fashion and events unless it is an alternative history novel or short story.

Whether a novel is a standalone, or one of many in a series, the novel’s world must be created. The set could be set in an existing town or city or an invented location using bits and pieces of a current place. An authour might create a complete world from their imagination, like J.K. Rowlings, Harry Potter and J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings.

I must confess. I am a Planner. I plan as much as possible before putting pen to paper or striking a computer keyboard to write a short story or novel.

I will do a second Worldbuilding post for science fiction and fantasy writing, but a novel can have locations and settings which are from the authour’s imagination. I like to think the following should be considered before writing any genre.


I like to call it, the “lay of the land”. Sending characters on a quest or trip to find a person or an object is affected by the geography they cross. Obstacles like mountains, volcanoes soon to erupt, raging rivers, oceans to cross provides drama and conflict in a novel or short story.


A character’s social class, where they live in the community and income might influence how they react to an event. The late 1800s social norms are far different than present day. Research is necessary to write accurate details.

What a wealthy family does for a living, where they live and for entertainment wouldn’t be the same as a poor family.


Fashions and fads change. Different countries have different fashions. A person wearing bell bottoms and platform shoes would stand out in a Regency romance novel. The fashion of the people has to be from the era which the novel is set.


People speak differently, depending on where they are from. Idioms and slang words might identify the nationality or at least the region to which the character has connection. Two different words in English can mean the same object if one is from North America and the other is from the United Kingdom.


When writing an historical novel or story, you have to make sure the inventions of the day are accurate. As examples, do not have a telephone or telegraph in a novel set before they were invented.


When a real event happens, research the actual weather that occurred to make the event more authentic.


You can develop and build your new world for your novel as detailed as you want. After all, it is your novel.

© Stephen Nelson 2020


How Much To Research

By Stephen Nelson

Paraphrasing Shakespeare, “To research or not to research or how much to research?” is the question and it’s up to the authour to decide the answer.

A person isn’t an expert in everything. Therefore, do research to add realism to a story or novel. It doesn’t matter what the genre.

A work in progress set in an historical period, a writer needs to know the language, fashion, transportation, occupations, society, technology and food from that time period.

When writing a novel, whether it’s science fiction or historical, try not to repeat the facts most people know. Mix in new facts which relate to the theme, subject or time period.

Michael Crichton read an article about extracting DNA from an insect in the amber and he wrote “Jurassic Park”.

Even if you don’t use all the information you have researched for the novel you are going to write, you might just have an idea for another novel or a short story buried in your research folder and files.

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Building a Novel

by Stephen Nelson

Some people who read novels might think, “I can do that.” I have always loved to write. I was asked at a retirement course, “What do you want to do when you retire?” My immediate reply was, “Write a novel.” Those in the class who didn’t know me, laughed, but the people who knew me well, smiled in approval. The novel(s) hasn’t/haven’t been completed, but the ideas are written down. I admire friends who are authours, published or unpublished (for now). I applaud them all.

I have been using a house as a symbol for the parts of novel. 


I consider the foundation as the research required before or during the writing process. I research as much as possible about a subject or I try to do that, before I begin writing. If something written will affect the plot, it needs research.


I put each character into a different room. The more characters in the novel means a bigger house. A character sketch for each character belongs in their rooms. The main characters have larger, more detailed rooms and the secondary and minor characters have smaller rooms to live in. If a secondary or minor character develops into a main character, they would move to a better room and that main character moves into a smaller room or a new room is added to accommodate the minor character which becomes a new main character. A character creating conflict can result in permanent or temporary expulsion from the house to live in the proverbial doghouse or move away. Characters that are killed off or die of natural causes leave the house. 


Novels are written with one or multiple points of view. The windows allow the reader to see or listen to a character describing what is happening in the plot. Authours usually write chapters from a character(s)’ point of view.

Everyone, no matter how perfect they consider themselves to be have character flaws. I like to use that as a cracked window. The larger the crack in the window or even if it is a broken window, the more severe is the character flaw. 


In the broad sense of the word, I think world building, whether it’s detailed or sparse can be represented by landscaping. The world as the characters know it needs explanation if the novel is set in an historical period, present, or in the future.


A flower or vegetable garden has many stages before a flower or vegetable is ready to be picked.

I use it to express what tense is used to write the novel.

A sprouting or flowering garden represents the present tense.

Neglected dead flowers and rotting or spoiled vegetables can represent the past tense.

The future tense is garden soil as the garden waits to be planted and the growth of plants and vegetables. 


The smoke coming out of the chimney is the authour’s creativity which includes the novel’s concept, research, writing, revising and editing and promotion of the finished product. 


The sidewalk to the house is the invitation to the reader to pick up the book, buy it and read it based on the book cover, title, author’s name, genre and blurb.


This analogy works for me. I hope it helps others.

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

For all you writers, aspiring or experienced, below is a link to a great story continuity check list from National Novel Writing Month to refer to. Thanks to Stephen Nelson for suggesting and providing it.

Camp NaNoWriMo Tip

Continuity Check

How often have you read a book or watched a television show or movie and noticed something wrong?

I don’t mean errors in spelling or misnaming a character.

It could be a character’s physical appearance has changed like having a mustache in one scene and not enough time passed since the previous scene to grow a full moustache.

Does a character wear different clothes in the same scene or chapter without an explanation?

I find a “cheat sheet” helpful when I’m writing. I use a Word document with the essential details of each character.

I was surprised at the number of times that I referred to it when I write. It saves time when editing as well. 

The headings and descriptions I use are as follows:

Character’s Full Name  (Maiden Name) if applicableThis could include adopted name or name legally changed.
AgeBirthdate, age at the start of the novel or when certain characters meet.
Place of BirthUseful when it explains customs and traditions a character has. Maybe the character immigrated and when to what region
MarriedName of Spouse and maybe the wedding date
Occupation(s)Past (if applicable) and current occupation
Eye ColourObvious
Hair Colour and Facial HairHair colour: Blonde, brunette, black, salt and pepper, grey, natural colour, dyed what colour, full head of hair, bald, thinning, beard, goatee, mutton chops, mustache  
Body typeTall, short, weight etc
Markings and LocationTattoos, moles, liver spots, scars
FearsGive the fear and why they might have it.
Hobbies What are they and how they were introduced to them. Did a family friend or family member get them interested in them?
WishSomething they would put on a bucket list to do or are unable to do.
Sense of fashionDepends on the era they live in and what their income might be.  Are they influenced be others?

© Stephen Nelson 2020

Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.

Patricia K McCarthy: On Writing Fantasy Fiction

Patricia K McCarthy is an Ottawa writer and author of six paranormal fiction novels. If you have any interest in the genre or modern fantasy, they are well worth reading.

In January, she made a presentation to the Ottawa Independent Writers on science fiction and fantasy. It sets out the history of the two genres and what makes them special to their followers. It contains a lot of good advice for any aspiring writer.

If you enjoy the presentations, check out her web page for more information on Patricia and her books. If you get the opportunity to meet her, say hello. She’s very friendly.

Writing tips and style guides

If you’re working your way through a NaNoWriMo manuscript and or a novel or short story you started on your own and are wondering if it’s ready to submit or have printed, one matter you should pay close attention to is how well it follows standard publishing spelling and grammar rules. Many of these topics are covered in style guides.

One helpful one that is available through the Ottawa Independent Writers has been developed by Ottawa writer and publisher Bob Barclay. It’s a great starting point for new and experienced writers trying to get their literary efforts honed for public review. A PDF version is available for download.

The Canadian Press offers The Canadian Press Stylebook and The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling books for all those tricky words writers have to contend with.

The Pilcrow can be a good editing tool for a writer

By Alex Binkley

After months if not years of writing, the story is finished and the crucial job of editing it well begins. You have plenty of goals in this step—making sure it makes sense, will hold a reader’s attention and doesn’t contain grammar and spelling mistakes. You can also work at removing repetitious and superfluous words.

As you probably wrote it on your computer, print it in a different font and edit the paper version making notes about areas that need fixing. After you’ve inputted the changes, hopefully your manuscript will be error free, tighter and better over all. Make sure you back up the story several different ways. I use memory sticks and my Gmail account.

Then you reach the day when you think it’s ready to be read by others. Beta readers are invaluable if they are experienced writers or possess expertise in your genre. My science fiction stories have been aided by readers with real science creds. Hopefully the beta readers will also be proficient at catching any remaining spelling and grammar errors and other slip ups.

There are other editing tricks. One is to read the manuscript from the end to the beginning. When you read it the usual way, you can become caught up in the storyline, which you are already familiar with. If you read it backward starting with the last paragraph, you actually check it line by line. You’ll be surprised at how many missing words and punctuation marks you’ll find to say nothing of those characters or places that sneak into the wrong part of the story.

It’s during this process that it’s a good time to turn on the Pilcrow. What’s that you wonder? It’s the old mark for a paragraph. If that doesn’t help you find it in the assortment of editing tools at the top of the page, search online for Pilcrow and you will receive far more information than you probably ever wanted to know about it. In my computer’s Windows 10 program, it’s in the middle in the first row of editing marks and tools when the Home button is selected.

Turned on, the Pilcrow will reveal all the editing marks and more in your story. It’ll show a dot for the proper space between words. You can find out if you’ve properly and consistently indented the paragraphs. At the end of the paragraph it’ll tell you if you have left extra spaces between the final period and the pilcrow, which moves the computer to the new paragraph. Extra spaces between words and sentences and at the end of paragraphs are generally considered as the mark of a real amateur.

Another good editing trick is to read the manuscript out loud. That will help you find clumsy wording and missing words. Some people even record themselves reading the story and play the recording so they can hear how it sounds.

If you have any editing tricks you’d like to share, email me at

The Circle of the Chosen: where to buy it

The Circle of the Chosen is now available on most of the usual distribution channels.

In paperback: and

Barnes & Noble in paperback and Nook book format.

Chapters Indigo

E-books—Can-AM books, which is my distributor, says The ebook platforms such Kobo and Barnes & Noble all have the title for sale. Let me know if there is a problem.

Smashwords has it available as epub.

In Ottawa the books are in stock at Books on Beechwood.

I usually carry one or two copies with me.

A Top Ten Books List

This is not in order of preference. I like all these books and their authors.

  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham was my introduction to science fiction. I read the rest of his books with equal fascination and admiration.
  • The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov but he also wrote so many other stories that I enjoyed.
  • 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke. Like the previous two, he wrote so many great books. Someday I will reread them once I have finished all the ones I now have to read. These are the writers who inspired and influenced me the most. If I could come anywhere near emulating them, I would be happy.
  • Lord of the Rings by Tolkien. Overwritten but still wonderful. Read it several times.
  • The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Again overwritten but such a sweeping series.
  • Catch 22 by Kurt Vonnegut who turned me onto fiction and humour.
  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams who further showed me the value of humour.
  • The Neanderthal Parallax / The Hominids Trilogy by Rob Sawyer. This is what-if fiction at its best with lots of science to back it up. He has many other great books.
  • Beneath Vaulted Hills by Sean Russell. The first book in the River into Darkness trilogy—excellent fantasy.
  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. This is storytelling as good as it gets.