Writing blog series #2 The world and characters – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo

Been here before? Skip the intro and head straight for the main piece of work then 😁

1.1 Intro

I’ve been asked about this before and had someone asking for a post about how I did NaNoWriMo. 

Firstly, I’m a newbie when it comes to writing. My 2017 NaNoWriMo project was my first one and I had no plan and no clue what I was doing or should be doing. Since then I have done plenty of research, attended classes, practised, read my work out loud, workshops, and more research. 

This blog series will be about my journey to creating a story from idea to the first draft via NaNoWriMo and beyond. Hopefully, you will get some ideas too on how to do your project. The series will go every Monday from the 16th September all the way up to the start of NaNo with the last post on the 28th October just in time for the start of NaNoWriMo. 

I plan to go through all the major aspects of storytelling: the idea, the world-building and plotting, outlining and writing. In all these, I will share how I did it and all my resources. I will move on to how to prepare for NaNoWriMo, how to complete NaNoWriMo and how to get un-stuck. The series will end with me sharing the first 800 words of my NaNoWriMo 2018 projects, slightly edited and spellchecked. 

Other posts:

  1. The Idea – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 16th September 2019
  2. The world and character – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 23rd September 2019
  3. The outlining and writing – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo – 30th September 2019
  4. NaNoWriMo prep – How I prep for NaNoWriMo 30 days of writing 50k words – 7th October 2019
  5. Undertaking the challenge – 50k words for NaNoWriMo 2019 – 14th October 2019
  6. How to get unstuck when writing – 21st October 2019
  7. First 1200 words of my 2018 NaNoWriMo project – 28th October 2019

Disclaimer; I have no background in writing and I do not know what I’m doing, but I’m enjoying it and that’s what’s matters. I’m also getting positive feedback on my writing which should indicate that I’m doing something right. 

2.2 Initial World Building and Characters Building

Continuing on for the previous post where I talked about how I got the idea and what it was. I continued thinking about my idea which turned out to be very important to me and my method. Taking notes is also important but this depends on your memory skills. 

As I continued to think about the scene with Aelin and Nina as best friends, I started asking questions. What were they doing? What type of friend would they be? What sort of thing would they have in common? How long have they been friends? The answers were either direct or indirect. How long had they been friends? The answer that came to me was an image of them as children playing together. That meant that they had been friends since childhood, and they were obviously not children any more playing with knives in my initial idea. 

With all of the questioning the characters in the scene evolved from Aelin and Nina the scene was based on, into the characters I wrote about:

Aelin became Jac and Nina became Cora. Jac was sitting behind the desk and Cora was looking at her with concern and love. Jac was wearing her captain jacket and uniform while Cora was wearing a loose shirt and a skirt tied together between her legs. They were talking about unimportant stuff as best friends do.

That scene never made it into my story, but it’s where it all started. 

I then wanted to figure out what they looked like. I had some ideas but they were still mingled with the initial character they were based on. As I found out more about these two characteres they also grew into different people from Aelin and Nina. Jac had shot bob, maybe curly, maybe straight, but it was definitely dark coloured. She had dark skin with freckles and wore typical captains clothings: baggy pants/trousers, with a white shirt and a tight short jacket and a leather hat. Cora, I knew was blond and pale, but she might be plumb or skinny, she wasn’t tall, but more I didn’t know. I went on Pinterest and searched for character art, character concept and similar wordings to see if I could find something to help me visualise the rest. After hours scrolling and searching these are the artworks I ended up with for inspiration and visualisation. If I could draw, I would totally do it myself, but I can’t.

For the world-building and to help me ask the right questions and to figure out different aspects of the world like economics, politics, religions I used the free worksheet from E.A.Deverell’s webpage. These sheets really helped me think things through and build the world and characters I was creating. Both the world-building and the characters building comes together in a tangled mess but it worked out on paper.

The story was set in a water-filled world hence the boat. Jac does trading between the seven isles and specialises in special trading. Cora is her best friend and they met where Jac grew up in a stately home with mentally abusive parents. They ran away together, bought a boat and started shipping. Together which Jac knew all about since her father was the leading trader in Killian.

The combination of a water-filled world and trying to figure out Killian turned into this setting:

Killian is the main city and port, and where both Cora and Jac are from. The seven isles are the first seven islands out from Killian were the 7th floats above the sea. There is then some distance to the next island which floats even higher and only reachable by a flying ship. The first seven are separated from the ones further out hence Seven Isles. Also, island number eight is floating and doesn’t reach the sea at all. Can only be reached by flying ships. Jacs boat is a sea vessel with minor flying abilities and can, therefore, dock at the seventh which is almost floating.

I spent a lot of time doing this. Thinking, asking questions and giving answers. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed figuring things out. On some occasions, I didn’t find an answer so I skipped the question and asked a different one. In my head, I thought that the story or character might not be developed enough to have an answer and it would come later on. It usually did. If not I would ask questions around the issue. If the unanswered question was “Why are they here?” Questions around it would be

  • Where are they from?
  • Who are their family? 
  • What education do they have?
  • What are their sexual orientations?
  • Who are they interested in?
  • What do they want?
  • How would they get what they wanted?
  • What would they sacrifice to get what they wanted?

Then I would end up with a brainchild of why they were in the current situation. 


Kin the sidekick and Jac’s second in command had a tricky background story. Considering he is the main cause of the twist at the end of the story I needed to find out exactly how he got in this position in the first place. But his background was black to me. I had no idea why he was doing what he was doing. I started looking into his childhood and found a very different type of person. He had three sisters, of which he provided for including education to make sure they had a better life. And that was how he got himself in debt to the villain in my story. Him trying to provide for his sisters and wanting the best for them, and being utterly selfless and therefore tricked into a bad situation. It was a slow burn situation and he didn’t realise how bad it was before joining Jac on her adventures, several years after leaving his sisters. 


Doing these things (the questions, the artwork, the worksheets) really helped me figure out why these characters were on that boat and how they were related to the boat and each other. I also figured out several things, usually in relation to character interaction, while writing the story that hadn’t appeared during the outlining.

There are two other characters on the boat; Tobias and Eric. They are always together, and I wrote them in as best friends. They met on the boat when they were both hired and didn’t know each other beforehand. Turned out they became a couple! It was very cute when I found that out. I thought for a long time they were only best friends with some sort of bromance, but it was more than that. I now have a very soft spot for them. 

It also helped to ask people for help when I got stuck or to just talk about the issue out loud. 

For more tips and skills surrounding world-building and character-building you can do a google (or any other search engine) search, look at the worksheet I linked above from E. A. Deverall’s webpage. 

NaNo has also published their NaNo 2019 Prep Workshop which included a worksheets and a handbook.

There is also some sessions of world-building and character-building in Brandon Sanderson’s Web lectures.

Until next time, keep writing 😁

5 thoughts on “Writing blog series #2 The world and characters – NaNo 2018 experience + resources for 2019 NaNo

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