Welcome to another installment of World Builders! Today, I welcome Katie Miller, another fellow Inkshares fantasy author who was excited to share about her process.
Katie Miller has been creating stories ever since she can remember. At six she wrote her first “novel” and it was a misspelled, fully illustrated masterpiece (not even close). Growing up, though, she never lost sight of the idea of being a real-life novelist, even as her imagination steered way out of control in her late-elementary years. As a pre-teen, Katie endured (she doesn’t like to use the term “suffered”) through sleep paralysis, a sleeping disorder that caused her to awaken paralyzed to find her room filled with beings that weren’t actually there. Instead of being scared, Katie decided to enjoy her “ability” and projected her stories and creations from her head to the real-world. Since sleep-paralysis is an anxiety-based disorder, her lack of fear made her fits come only to a minimum, visiting her now only about once every couple of months.
Continuing to utilize her over-active imagination, at thirteen Katie decided she wanted to completely commit to writing. Through browsing writing websites online, she found that teens writing novels wasn’t an impossible task. She began writing and since then, she hasn’t stopped. In just four years she completed her first seven-book fantasy series. The series called “A Song of Ciphers” has been previewed in entirety by a few select individuals and beloved by each one. The readers have admitted that the emotions Katie puts forth in her writing (often sobbing uncontrollably during scenes or completely forgetting she’s writing and losing herself in the story’s events) seems to rub off on readers, like they’re all feeling the same thing as the characters. A Song of Ciphers seems to have an unmistakable aura of reality, despite its vibrant, fantastical world.
Katie Miller has won a few writing contest through online writing sites, has written for a local newspaper, and won National Novel Writing Month four times. Now, she needs all the help she can to win the biggest contest of them all that will land her the publication she’s dreamt about since a lunatic child.
Here are Katie’s answers to my questions on her world building process. Be sure to also check out her Inkshares project, A Past Not Forgotten, now funding on Inkshares.
#1: What aspects of the world do you have to figure out before you start a story? What do you allow to unfold as you write?
I allow everything to unfold as I write. Before I start a story there’s little more than maybe a few characters and a brief, ten word plot idea. A Past Not Forgotten was originally supposed to be a stageplay about a pirate-orphan who goes on adventure with her long-lost sailor father. Clearly, that’s not what it turned out to be.
To me a story is something discovered, not necessarily created. In my opinion, an author should experience the story the same as the reader. With that in mind, I let the story reveal itself to me. I seek the world. I explore the characters. I watch the plot unfold just like a reader would. This, for me, makes the story so much rawer, and so much more realistic. I never am constricted by an outline or by a strict synopsis. I let the story wander where it wants, much how life takes its own course. My most shocking world-discoveries or plot-twists come to me right when they happen, but seem to make complete sense, as though I had planned it from the start.
#2: Describe your world building method. Do you have forms that you fill in? How do you organize your notes? Do you use a wiki or some other software?
When I begin a new project, I get a two-pack of Moleskine Volant notebooks and use one for the project specifically, and the other for any ideas that abound while working on the current story to save for later. My notebook for A Past Not Forgotten (which blew into three notebooks once the story turned into a series) was filled in the order of thought process. I let my imagination run naturally and see what parts of the world I see first, and develop them further once they’re down. But in all honesty, there’s not any legitimate organization. It’s only really readable by me, and in some cases the handwriting is so bad it doesn’t even seem like English.
I throw myself fully into my stories. Even the process of note taking is a discovery to me. It’s an incredible journey that helps me to better understand the world that I’ve been called to write about, so I can better execute the characters, plot, and universe.
#3: Do you use diagrams? If so, what kind? What about charts, schematics, or other visual representations of your world beyond textual material?
As I have expressed, and as you can imagine, my writing process produces a lot of chaos. Since I have finished the entire series, I have decided to actually write out all of my world elements. So, I am in the process of transferring the complete history of Nevara as well as all of the events of the story into Aeon Timeline, a program from the makers of Scrivener (which I also use).
#4: In your opinion, what is it that makes a believable and immersive world for a fantasy story?
I think the best way to create an immersive world is just to completely commit to it. Observe the world around you, and figure out how or why things came to be. Just think of how our human history has been dictated by the planet and culture in which we live. Think of the idioms and habits we have. How do those all come about? Use those sorts of thoughts and questions for your world building process. Don’t just take some characters and place them in a cool setting. To truly make us believe that this is where they have lived from birth and that this is where all their influence comes from, they, nearly literally, need to eat, breathe, and sleep your world.
#5: How do you deal with contradictions in your story that require large changes to your world? Have you run into this kind of difficult situation and if so how did you resolve it?
As you can guess, my writing process does cause big shifts in story. I may discover in the climax that a character actually has twisted intentions or that an evil character is being influenced by someone else, and this can seem like a problem. If you know your characters well enough, though, I think it sort of straightens itself out, and as a writer you realize something you wrote didn’t actually mean what you thought it did… It’s sort of like having a lot of best friends or family-members. No matter how well you know them, you don’t know their heart or their mind, and I think being a writer, you should view your characters that way.
When my stories do have large contradictions or shifts, I commit fully to them from that point on. I never annex it because it wasn’t planned. If it happens, it happens. I usually just go back in the rewrite and ensure everything still points to that, and maybe add in a few things to do that.
#6: Describe your world and some of the considerations behind it that you feel give your stories a solid sense of realism:
Like I stated before, I try to add my world building into everything—into each character’s attitudes and speech. I think if you ensure that you’re always thinking of the place in which your story is taking place, you can build bizarre and extraordinary places and make them completely believable. I thrive on that. From clockwork-magic robots to visual past-projections made of sound…Nevara is far from plausible even by fantasy terms. But I like to think that the way the characters exist makes everything else sort of a reality.
#7: What tips do you have for aspiring fantasy writers on how to create a solid, believable world?
Except no limits.
Thanks, Katie, for sharing your insights on world building!
Now here’s the great fantasy adventure book that’s come from her world building endeavors:
A Past Not Forgotten is the first book in the A Song of Ciphers series. Technically, it is the prequel, taking place sixteen years before the others. It illustrates the lives and crossing paths of the brilliant and flawed heroes that shaped the future world.
A Past Not Forgotten is currently being crowdfunded on inkshares.com and is an entrant in the Nerdist Collection contest. Find out more about it here.
Here is a short excerpt:
She strode boldly up the stairs, knowing she was walking to her death. The wood beneath her boots creaked ominously as the noose swayed gently in the frigid air. People below stepped back unconsciously as the infamous ebony cloak blew against her, creating a black frame of the killer’s thin body, making it like a shadow moving across the morning sky. The low hood covered her face, but everyone could see she was not afraid.
If you are intrigued by what you read here and would like to help bring this book to life, please go over to Inkshares cast your vote by pre-ordering a copy.
Inkshares is a crowdfunding publisher who chooses which books to publish based on whether enough readers have shown interest in them. Readers show interest by backing them with a pre-order. Successful projects have been reviewed in the NYT, US Today, and Washington Post, and have been distributed to numerous bookstores including Indigo and Barnes & Noble.
You can also connect with Katie in the following places:
Email: katiemillernovelist “at” live “dot” com