Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fantasy/Scifi and Real Life Commentary.

It has always annoyed me when people say that Harry Potter is just a children's series. Maybe I'm being a bit of a fangirl here, but there is SO much real life stuff hidden in the pages! (FYI, this is a post mostly for scifi/fantasy writers, though maybe other genres can benefit, too?) I'm using mostly HP and Doctor Who as examples of real life found in fantasy/scifi.

HP either is anti or has metaphors representing:
  1. Torture.
  2. Genocide.
  3. Prejudice.
  4. Bullying.
  5. Alcoholism/addiction (Winky)
  6. AIDS (Lupin being a werewolf is supposed to be a metaphor for a person with AIDS.)
  7. Date rape. (Think poor Tom Sr.)
  8. Newspapers that print lies.
  9. Crappy political leaders.
DW has commentary on:
  1. Plastic surgery. (Cassandra.)
  2. Suicide.(Van Gogh)
  3. Family. (Rose and her parents.)
  4. Confidence. (Donna)
  5. Change and repentance (think of when Rose wanted to show the Dalek mercy.)
  6. Genocide.
  7. Being forced to be a parent. (When Ten had his DNA used without consent to make Jenny could be seen as a metaphor for surprise parenthood.)
  8. PTS (Nine and the Time War. One of my favorite bits of character development on Doctor Who ever was watching Nine fight his PTS over the war and what he did. *sigh* I miss Nine.)
  9. Love, and gaining it and losing it. (Rose! And River! And the Ponds!)
  10. Knowing when to walk away from a bad relationship. (Martha.)
And my own work in progress so far has a metaphor for cloning. So, fantasy/scifi writers, you want to make your book more real? Pick up a newspaper and ask yourself what you could do to make metaphors of real life. :)

Yes, I realize that this isn't a Myers-Briggs post. Next Sunday. ;) And yes, I know that today isn't Sunday, but my time it's only 44 minutes to Sunday, so I think it counts!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

What Not Writing can Teach you about Writing

Biggest contradiction ever, right? Well, not writing can teach you plenty about writing. Let me tell you a little about my writing life for the past eleven months.

  • I get into writing so much I pretty much lived and breathed it.
  • Hardly take a break or think about anything else for nine months.
  • Finally take a break in September/October this year. Read some books. Watched a lot of Doctor Who:
Source as far back as I can trace it. Including this because blog posts without pictures are weird, and Doctor/Rose is a great pairing. :)
  • Start writing again in tiny bits.Marvel at the improval in my writing because of the break.
Okay, first. Making my life writingwritingwriting was kind of unhealthy. Well, okay, not just kind of, more like a lot. It caused me to put so much pressure on myself that I started to hate writing. (Not to mention, my prose sounded really repetitive.)
And hating writing's not right, because I love writing. 

Anyway, I took a break for a month and half and, as I said above, doing stuff like reading books and watching TV had really helped my prose. For starters, watching TV gave me a good idea how people react to stuff in ways other than "she smiled" "he laughed"  etc. And reading? It's given me even more ways to fix up that stale prose. Like, I forgot that when describing something, you could compare something to something else. Like "Professor McGonagall gave Harry a hawk-like look." (Not a quote from HP that I am aware, I just made it up on the spot, lol. If there is a quote like that in HP, then my subconscious is channeling Jo, apparently.) Rather than my usual description of a stern gaze, which is "She narrowed her eyes." Saying that a gaze is hawk-like is far more interesting.

Anyway, hope you guys liked the post! Soon I may do a post on Myers-Briggs tests and writing. Also, I just noticed that I have 29 followers. That feels like a huge milestone. Thanks guys!
Also, I don't like making commits for fear of breaking things, but I want to at least try to update this once a week. We'll see if that happens. What do you guys think of me updating the blog every Sunday?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What JK Rowling Can Teach Us about Picking a Genre

Have you heard that every author should pick a genre? It's been mentioned on Go Teen Writers and I agree with it--it gives your readers a good idea of what to expect. I, for example, write YA speculative fiction. That said...
JK Rowling shaped my childhood so much, I don't know who I'd be if I hadn't read her books.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3)
Source My favorite J.K. Rowling book. :)
But, I have a complaint. Now that she's done with writing HP, she's willy-nilly writing whatever she feels like--adult novels! Children's books! While she has the right to publish whatever she wants, as a reader, this is kind of disorienting, because I don't know what I'm getting from her anymore. A book about dentists? An epic fantasy? A historical? It's far more comforting as a reader if I know the author will be writing something in the same genre, or a similar one. Kami Garcia, for example, after writing the Beautiful Creatures books, for example, is writing another YA paranormal romance--though I think this one is darker that BC. Her writing partner, Margaret Stohl, while she's venturing out and writing a YA scifi--which I can't wait to read!--she's still staying within YA spec fic. I have an idea of what to expect from both of them. (Or at least I think I do, lol!)
I'm not saying that you have to write the same exact genre and again. I'm not suggesting if you write historicals, you can only write about WWII forever. You can write about other periods in time. But it would be weird to see you write a fantasy.

What do you guys think? Should an author be able to write whatever comes to mind, or should they pick a genre, even if it's a general one like speculative fiction?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What BC can Teach Us About Originality in Writing

So, y'all know that I am big fan of the Caster Chronicles by now. Like, it's my second favorite series out there. (First is Harry Potter.) Anyway, the release of the movie trailer has gotten me wondering: Why do I like this series so much?
BTW, before we get too far, here is the trailer:
If that premise doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will. :P
Anyway, as you can see from the trailer, Lena doesn't get to chose if she's good or evil. It will be decided for her when she turns sixteen. I mean, that's revolutionary for a book. I've never read a book where the MC has no choice if they get to be good or evil. I mean, what? That's totally new. I mean, even in my own books, the MC gets to chose if she wants to be good or evil. Anyway, aside from the amazing characters, beautiful setting, I think what I love most about those books, is how original they manage to feel. I've felt things I've never felt before while reading this series.
Source. Englert and I-can't-spell-his-last-name don't really fit my mental picture, but this does fit the tone of the book a little. I love Ethan/Lena. I don't care how many people say she's emo, she's having a hard time. *Restrains self from going on an EthanXLena defense rant.* I WILL GO DOWN WITH THIS SHIP!
Anyway, my point here is, is that the authors take risks. They're willing to do things are the reader won't even consider in order to make their story a bit more original. Ugh, I really wish I could go into this deeper without spoilers--and trust me, you don't want the plot spoiled, but I can think of off the top of my head... Uh, five times that they did something that absolutely stunned me. And now I feel like they've challenged me as a writer to always ask... How can I take this plot further? How can I shock the reader, deepen the stakes? Make things even harder? Make the reader's heart break a little more?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

More Romance Thoughts, with help from the Doctor

*spoilers from Doctor Who, mostly first two seaons*
Okay, so if you follow my tumblr then you know that I have been watching a lot of Doctor Who lately. It is an awesome show and one thing that I have grown to love is the pairing 9th/10th Doctor/Rose.
Source (I think... You never know with the internet. But yeah, thanks to whoever made this!)
Okay, so major spoiler alert from the end of season two: What makes Doctor/Rose a great pairing is that they don't end up together. The show starts with Rose accompanying the Doctor on his journeys through time and space and along the way, they fall in love. And it's a beautiful, wholesome love because they never even really act on their feelings for each other--they're just there and it's obvious they would do anything for each other.
Then stuff happens and Rose is trapped where the Doctor can't come get her. They have to say goodbye for good. It's a beautiful story:
Source (Mostly likely. Like I said, you never know. Once again, thanks whoever made this!)
Yes, I know those who like happy endings are like "What, are you kidding me?" right now. And while I think some stories can work with a happy ending, sometimes, if you want your story to really stick with people, you gotta do something that will make them cry every now and then. The Doctor and Rose wouldn't really stick with me as much right now if they didn't have a sad ending. The fact that they want to be together and can't because of where she is... So heartbreaking! Whereas if they flew off into space and stayed together for the rest of Rose's life? Boring, and very forgettable.
That said, this tactic can backfire if you don't use it right. The writers of DW give the Doctor plenty of time to grieve Rose after she's gone. He doesn't find someone else right away--as far as I know, he doesn't find anyone else romantically for a season and a half or something like that. (River, right? I'm only on season/series 3.) They show the Doctor grieving Rose: Wondering what she would think about things if she was there, imagining/remembering himself dancing with her when a crowd of people are dancing, finding some of her stuff on board the TARDIS. (aka his space ship, for those not in the know.) He doesn't move on right away, and if you're going to do the sad route, you have to make sure you get the pacing right, or it makes the whole storyline for nothing. If the Doctor had a new love two episodes later, it would have cheapened his and Rose's love story, in my opinion. 
Oh, and if you're going to bring in a new love interest afterward, make sure they have personality. I don't want to spend the whole new romance thinking, using the Doctor as an example, "I hate this new person, bring back Rose."  That is the last thing you want your readers thinking, so please make sure the new person is as enjoyable and has as much chemistry as the old couple. Just make sure that they are different from the old couple. I don't know about everyone else, but I don't want a repeat of what I just saw, but with a new face.
Anyway, that's all, hope you found this helpful. :)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What Evie from Paranormalcy Can Teach Us About Character Voice

Okay, so I've been rereading Paranormalcy to prepare myself for Endlessly. (I tried to read it and I couldn't remember any of the plot, lol.)
And anyway, one thing I've always loved about Evie is that she has a great voice. Here are some things I love about her:

  1. She has flaws that repulse even her. (Can't go into what, spoiler.)
  2. She feels hurt and lonely at times. For example, she often feels hurt that her guardian, Raquel, isn't her real mom, and when Raquel reminds Evie that she is an employee, it hurts her feelings. 
  3. Despite those things, she is happy, and blubbly; something I love. She chooses to be happy and not negative. 
  4. The best things about Evie are the little details, like her love of pink, her pink-and-rimestone taser, the fact that she has a favorite TV show(Easton Heights.), how she says "bleep" in place of cuss words. Those little things make her feel so real and three dimensional to me. I mean, how do you not love a character who fangirls at lockers?
  5. Just seeing Evie going about her routine is great--like when she meets with her tutor Charlotte, and hasn't done her homework(And writes in Spanish "I am dead meat." :D), to her going on a bag-and-tag (aka her job) and going to talk with her best friend when she gets back, and then chill after that by watching Easton Heights. White took the time to get to know her MC that is for sure. 
So what are some things that we can take out of Evie?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Could your story benefit from specific goals?

Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl went into writing Beautiful Creatures with a vision. A dare from teens they knew. The dare was this, write a book with the following things:

1. No vampires.
2. No whiny girl narrators.
3. Give the girl powers, not the guy.
4. Book must not be generic. (This should be a goal with every book, in my opinion!)
5. Specific setting, please.

(In other words, it sounded like the teens who dared them to write BC were sick of Twilight, lol. Anyway, the interview where I found the info on the dare can be found here.)

So, here's where I make a confession: I like paranormal romance, sometimes. Not Twilight crap. It has to, like the dare mentioned, not be generic. One of the reasons why I loved Timeless by Alexandra Monir was because it felt different from other books in the PR genre:

Timeless (Timeless, #1)
(Image source... BTW, isn't that cover awesome!?)
For one thing, the heroine, Michele doesn't just "curl up and die" (as the book puts it) when awful things happen. She does stuff. When her boy is in danger, she takes action. And did I mention that she can time-travel, not her boyfriend? Plus, the book has beautiful description. (Oh, and by the way, this is a book I feel like I can recommend on here! The close thing it has to swearing is stuff like taking God's name in vain, and if you're like me, you can just pretend they said "my gosh!" or something. I know we have a lot of conservative readers on here, so I try and be careful what I recommend. Other than that, no smut! :] Anyways...)

So yeah, I like the genre if the author can make the book feel unique. That's why, when planning my own paranormal romance, I went into it with my own goals:

  1. Must have a unique POV.
  2. Must have a specific setting, including mention of weather/decent description. (A challenge for me!)
  3. Must have a amazing storyline, not just be about the romance. 
  4. Like my two favorite paranormal romances, the female MC must not be whiny and she should be more powerful than the male.
  5. Main characters who do stuff, stuff doesn't happen to them. (Or at least 80% of the time they do stuff, 20% of the time stuff happens to them.)
  6. The main couple can live without each other, but are better together. 
  7. Must not be generic. (Note that a ton of stuff my on list springs from this rule.)
And that's all I can think of in terms of goals for my book at the moment. Do you guys have goals for your books? Do you think you could benefit from them? I think that this is really helpful--to close on the words of Margaret Stohl from the same interview above "...When you read a book, read it critically and think, “Did I like that, yes or no? Why didn’t I like that?” What were the components that made it interesting to you, because then you start to develop a perspective and I think that’s kinda the first thing to developing a voice which is more than anything something an author needs to have."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Writer's Depression

Taking a break from my series about learning from good books to focus on something very important: Writer's Depression.

All writers probably get insecure from time to time. I have. Probably you do, too. Anyway, this post has been brewing at the back of my mind for a while now. Basically, here's what happens:
You're reading your favorite book and once the 'wow, this is amazing!' thoughts are done, all you can do is thinking about how you're not as good of a writer as Author X, and never will be. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You cannot compare your book to a published book. This isn't really my advice, it actually comes from Kami Garcia, in an interview. That had to be some of the most helpful advice I've ever read as a writer: Don't compare your work to something finished! Especially not something that has been gone over by the authors, beta readers, agents, publishers, etc 1 million times. A draft that isn't even done isn't the same as a published book. Pause to reflect on that before you go on. 
  • Even authors you love write awful first drafts. This ties into the interview I mentioned above, where Garcia says something like "I wish you could see what the original story was like, before we edited it." How humbling to know that one of my favorite books was awful when it was first written. I love that! Even more humbling, was when I told Garcia that I felt that way on twitter, she said that she finds it encouraging when authors she loves write bad drafts. 
  • Even really successful people (including writers) get insecure. A week or so ago, I watched Oprah interview Lady Gaga on her show Oprah's Next Chapter and one thing that shocked me was when Gaga said that she found Born This Way an intimidating song to write, and she had to imagine Whitney Houston singing it in order to write the song. Wow. I mean, no matter how you feel about Gaga, it's hard to imagine her feeling insecure, isn't it? I mean, this is a woman who isn't afraid to go out in public wearing meat.
  • Even authors you love have errors in their books. Including published ones. I've been rereading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone lately, and so far I've found two errors. And it's a published book and a bestseller, not to mention something that totally changed my life. Even J.K. Rowling is human. 
  • If you let someone read your book, they might like it. After a mass editing spree, I sent an unfinished book my mine to be read by a friend. I thought she would hate it, and that it would be too confusing for her to like; too this, too that. But she told me on Facebook she liked where it was going. 
  • If you find yourself hating your book, keep in mind that there was once a time you liked it. If you still hate it, put it away and come back to it. Reread it and then see if you like still like it. Often, I weed out the ideas I love from those I don't because the ideas I love are the ones that don't leave me alone. 
  • If you can, study other authors and see what makes them so good. I've been having fun doing with my series about 'What my Favorite Books have Taught me about Writing."

Friday, June 22, 2012

How to Write a Good Climax

Okay, so once again, I'm using this book as an example:

This book had a kick-butt climax for many reasons. Here are some:
  • Secrets are revealed. Like a traitor, for example. There are loads more, but I don't want to spoil it. But even the secrets have extra twists to them that make them unique.
  • There is a ticking clock. For both the bad guys and the good. They have to accomplish their goal by midnight, or bad stuff happens.
  • The authors took risks. They weren't afriad to do things that made me go "Whoa, what just happened???" And their other climaxes are just as explosive, in the other books in the series. I advise you to take risks, if you can. Do something the reader won't expect. And readers are used to predictable plots, so I advise you to be creative. 
  • They did something different, like switching the POV, which meant the reader went into book 2 sharing a secret with the MC's girlfriend and housekeeper. You, and those two are the only ones who know, for a part of book two, what really happened. Even the main character of #2 doesn't know. Which diffinately made book 2 interesting. 
  • The villains are bad. They don't hesistant to do things or hand out info that makes me go :O. Like, in the climax, there is a moment where I think (SPOILER): "WOW, how could a mother do something like that to her own child??? Killing her daughter's boyfriend! What a little #%@&*." Well, I wasn't swearing, but it made me want too. 
  • The characters use every weapon they can. Like I mentioned in my how to write a good emotional fight post.
  • Have stuff happen in your climax that the MC doesn't know about. This is the best tip I can give you. In the series I'm using as am example, in the following two books we are learning at least once per book secrets on what happened in the climax of the first book. How was this done? Well:
    • Characters are doing things that the MC doesn't know about. This ties into advice that Stephanie Morrill gave on her blog about every character thinking they are the main character. Have other characters do stuff. Don't have the MC know about it. Plan your climax before you write it. 
    • Things are happening that no one knew about or could have predicted. For example, in Beautiful Creatures, a bit of magic goes wrong in the climax... But no one realizes it until book 3. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

How to Write a Good (Emotional) Fight

Today, I was rereading Beautiful Chaos, by the same authors of Beautiful Creatures.

Beautiful Chaos (Caster Chronicles, #3)

Anyway, I was rereading of my favorite parts of the book--a fight between two of the characters, Lena and Liv. Let me give you some background so you can get why the fight is good (SPOILERS from Beautiful Darkness. Don't read the rest if you don't want to know!):

Basically, in the previous book, Lena thought that she was turning evil. She thought she had killed her uncle, and was feeling guilty.(Long story) Anyway, because of the lie she believed about herself, she started treating her boyfriend, Ethan, like crap. She ran off with another dude and her antihero cousin Ridley. (I know Lena sounds like a bad character, but trust me when I say she was going through a hard time!) Ethan, who is worried about her, chases after her with a smart girl named Liv and his best friend, Link. Anyway, in the book, Ethan, Liv, and Lena are at a party; Lena and Ethan now back together and Liv is trying to get over Ethan, who she fell in love with during the previous book. During the party, Ridley casts a spell to bring out the anger in everyone and that is when the fight happens.

Here is what makes their fight good:

  • Before the big fight scene, they are polite to each other on the surface, especially in front of Ethan. The words are polite, but even Ethan can tell that they want to rip each other to pieces. They say stuff like "How are you?" "Good." But by their nonverbal actions, you can tell they hate each other. 
  • Both of the characters are right. Both Lena and Liv have good points. Yes, Lena was awful to Ethan, which is Liv's point. But Lena's point was also right because she thought that she was turning evil. Her actions, though not good, were justified. In other words, in a fight, try and make both characters right. It will make the reader root for both of them, not just one. That will keep your readers united, and not saying stuff like "Well, I'm team Lena" or "I'm team Liv" when they fight. 
You could also, during a fight, have both characters be wrong, or be both right and wrong. Just know who you want the reader to cheer for. That said, make sure both have good arguments, don't make one person sound stupid to further the "right" person's cause. 
  • When the fight happens, Lena and Liv don't hold anything in. They tell each other exactly what they think of each other. And their insecurities show up. Stuff like:
Liv: You treated Ethan like crap. And did I mention you're self-centered and a really powerful Caster*?
Lena: I thought I was turning evil! And you're smarter and blonder than me, and have a British accent! And you stole the affections of my uncle! You take everything that is mine!
(Summarized, not the real dialogue.)

Yes, I know you aren't always supposed to have people say what they think, but people tend to forget about, or not care about, politeness during a fight.

*Casters are a race of humans with superpowers. Like witches, but with a twist. Lena is capable of controlling the weather. 

  • They use every weapon they can. The fight turns physical and Lena even uses her weather powers, making it rain. And Liv might not have powers, but she still tries to fight back as hard as she can, trying to hit Lena and kick mud at her.
  • The authors included good dialogue. Example:
Lena: You really think this is a spell?
Liv: No, I think we always fight like dogs at parties.
Lena: There you go with being smart again.

(Summery, not the real quotes.)
  • The fight has a good ending. Lena and Liv end up calling a truce and Liv finds love with someone new. Lena even gives a dance ticket to Liv so that Liv and her new love can go to a school dance. (In a twist of irony, she falls for the boy Lena ran away with. Go Liv/John! :D) Note that the "good ending" doesn't always have to equal "happy" if you want to have a sad twist. 

In case you can't tell, I like studying books I love in order to figure out how to improve my own writing. In fact, I plan on doing several more post on what this series has taught me about writing, including how to write a good climax. :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

How to Write Good Description

Yes, I know, a post on this from me? Yeah, well, I was reading a scene from Beautiful Creatures this morning, and I realized something I liked about Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's description: They don't just say "Ethan sat in the chair." (Like I would, lol.) They give details:

  • A brief mention of who owed the chair. (Ethan's mom.)
    • How she got it.(A gift)
    • Why the gift was given. (good grades at college.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, physically. (It's not a chair that feels relaxing.)
  • How the chair makes Ethan feel, mentally. (It makes him feel closer to his mom, who has died.)
  • Later on in the scene after commenting on some other scenery, Ethan mentions that, overall, being there makes him think of his mom holding him as a boy. (A childhood memory.)
Beautiful Creatures, page 421, hardback edition. (So you can look it up. I'm not sure if posting direct text is allow. There's also another good bit of description on the next page, about a recipe of Ethan's mom's,)
You guys get the idea of that, right? Here's how it would work applying it to a room in my house(So you can see this applied to actual writing, not just me giving a summery and page number to a book.):

Allison walks into the living room, or as her family calls in, the non-living room because of how much time was spent there. Her eyes catch the big mirror with the gold-colored trim that her parents got as a wedding gift thirty years ago. She walks up to a tan chair that she finished reading one of her favorite books, Beautiful Creatures, in. Despite that fact that the chair is also thirty years old, it's comfortable. She sits down in the chair and eyes one of the couches in the room. It has big purple and white vertical stripes. Allison can't remember a time without that couch. When she was little, it had the ugly stripes, but until recently it had a red cover. After her nephew, Jack, had been born, her mom had taken off the cover, to reveal the stripes again. Although her mother said it was because she was tired of the red cover-up, Allison couldn't help but ponder if the real reason was she didn't want to get baby pee on the cover, mom is now using the couch as a changing table for Jack.
Her eyes fall on the floor, remembering playing with American Girl dolls there with her friends. She could still remember having talks with her friends about how the doll's character would say things "in the books." Even as  a child, Allison had respect for books. 
Finally, Allison leaves the room, unable to stand the annoying clock with the swinging pendulum in the corner. She wishes her mom hadn't put batteries back in the thing, because she can't stand ticking clocks--something her mom finds relaxing. Allison winces, everything in that room is old or annoying--or both. Her parents sure can be cheap when it comes to decorating. 

Okay, so ignoring some of the flaws with the writing in this scene, let's break the scene down.

  • The living room is called the 'non-living room' because of how much time is spent there. The room has a nickname.
  • I didn't just describe the old mirror, I stated it's age and how my parents got it.
  • I mention the color of an old tan chair, a memory I associate with it, and how it feels physically. 
  • I mention the ugly couch that my mom is using a changing table, that's its been around all my life, etc, etc.
  • I mention childhood memories, like playing dolls with my friends. I even mention a bit of what I was like as a little girl.
  • I mention what I can hear (the clock) and how it makes me feel (annoyed) and how it makes my mom feel. (relaxed.) Try and include how things make other characters feel, too, if you can; it can help show things about their character.
Well, this gives us a problem... What if the character is arriving to a new place? Well, perhaps I will cover that in a blog post soon!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

World Building Part I

I'm constantly updating this, so look for changes in underline.

It hit me yesterday that there will be some moments coming up in TL where I need to do some world building. (TS could also use a bit, but that can be put off for a while.) I can't just think "Well, think early 1900s, and you have Cat's world." I need to start thinking of things that make Cat's world unique. That said... What do I need to think about? Here are things other authors have suggested in other world building posts, as well as things I have thought of:

  1. Geography 
    • Making maps is a good idea.
      1. How many islands does you world have?
      2. Volcanoes?
      3. Mountains?
      4. Where are towns?
        • What kind of people live there?
        • What jobs do they offer? Are towns set up in certains areas? 
          1. Farming towns?
          2. Mining towns?
          3. Fishing towns?
    • Are there any unexplored/blocked areas? Why?
    • Don't be afraid to base one country off another, but be careful not to make it so obvious you offend people. 
    • Where are farms?
      1. What do people farm? 
      2. Who are the farmers?
    • Oceans.
      • What kind of sea creatures live there?
      • What kind of boats travel the sea?
      • Are there pirates? Who is the most and least fearsome?
      • Are there any major ocean liners? (Think Titanic.) What are they like?
      • Are their any famous sinkings?
  2. Food.
    1. Do they eat meat?
    2. Vegetables?
    3. Do they go on diets?
    4. Do they eat much unhealthy food?
    5. Where does the food come from?/Who makes it?
  3. Wars.
    • Why are they at war?
    • Do they have enough supplies?
    • What countries are their allies?
    • What weapons do they fight with? Don't be afraid to make up new ones.
    • Do they have a good general?
      1. Who is the general?
      2. How do people feel about him?
      3. How experienced is he? Etc.
    • Do people support the war? 
      1. Are they making any scracfies for the war? 
      2. Do they make things to support the war?
    • Has your MC lost anyone fighting? How do they feel about it?
    • Who are the soldiers?
      1. Men?
      2. Women?
      3. Can anyone serve? What keeps people from serving? Why or why not?
        • Injuries.
        • Gender.
        • Religion.
        • Past history.
        • Sexual orientation.
  4. Religion
    1. Are they monotheistic?
    2. Polytheistic?
    3. Atheists?
    4. Reincarnations?
    5. Do they worship animals?
    6. Nature?
    7. Also keep in mind creation stories, how they think the world will end, etc.
    8. What rules do religions have? Do people care more about those or a relationship with their deity(s)?
    9. Does the religion your characters follow really exist, or is a fake one that is made up? Whether or not the characters know they are right is up to you. ;)
  5. Customs
    • What rituals do they follow? 
    • How to they observe them? 
    • Do they get days off? 
    • Are they followed for for:
      • Government.
      • Religion.
      • Military.
      • Celebrated leaders. (Think Martin Luther King Jr.)
      • Themselves.
    • Manners. 
      1. What is rude?
      2. What is polite?
  6. Government
    • Monarchy?
    • Democracy?
    • Theocracy? (Government based off religion.)
    • Do people like the government?
    • What are sub-departments?
      1. Foreign affairs.
      2. Sports.
      3. Creatures.
      4. Food.
      5. Religion.
      6. Jobs.
      7. Law.
      8. Protection of people.
      9. Basically, brainstorm real-life government departments.
    • What is the army, military, navy, etc like?
      1. Is it a draft?
      2. How to people feel about the army/navy/etc?
  7. Fashion. 
    • How do people dress? 
    • Do they dress for comfort, work, or style?
    • How does location effect dress codes?
    • How do morals/values effect dress?
    • Do men/women dress different? 
    • Does it look like a certain era? 1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1970s. 
    • How does religion effect dress?
    • Do people wear tatoos, earrings, etc? What about jewelry?
  8. Politics 
    • What is controversial in your world? What is their equivalent of abortion rights debates, for example?) Why is it controversial?
    • Who are the politicians, what do they believe? Are they corrupt?
  9. Currency.
    • Who do they put on currency? Politicians? Religious leaders? Someone else?
    • What color are the coins?
    • What are they made of?
  10. Disasters.
    • Where do natural disasters occur in your world? Do they have lots of tornadoes, hurricanes, or something else?
    • Have they ever had a mass tragedy, such as a mass murder, or terrorist attack? Were those people caught?
    • Does the government help clean up those tragedies or someone else?
    • What was the worst disaster to ever happen in your world? How did it effect your characters, if at all?
  11. Races/Appearances.
    • What do you people look like? Do they have the same hair/eye/skin color as us?
    • Do they have anything out of the ordinary about their appearence such as fur/scales/claws/something else?
    • Has your character's past effected how they look, dress, etc? (Example: Harry Potter having a lightning bold scar from the night his parents died.)
  12. Health.
    • Do they go on diets?
    • How do they exercise?
    • What do sleeping patterns look like?
    • Do people even care about keeping fit?
  13. Transport:
    • Cars?
    • Wagons?
    • Magic?
    • Boats?
    • Animals?
    • Planes/other flying machines.
  14. Architecture
    1. Big or small.
    2. Stain glass?
    3. Skyscrapers?
    4. Stone,wood, clay, or brick buildings?
    5. Teepees? 
    6. Do they live underground, or in homes dug in hills?
    7. Architecture isn't really my thing, so the best advice I have is trying googling pictures of buildings you want to describe.
  15. Large Gatherings
    • Weddings
    • Funerals
    • Graduations
    • Religious Holidays
    • Birthdays
    • What are decorations like?
    • Anything else I might not have covered?
  16. Hospitals
    • How are they ran?
    • Who is on the staff?
    • What do they use to treat people?
      1. Magic?
      2. Medicine?
      3. Something else?
    • What do they treat?
    • Who is allowed to be a doctor and who is not?
    • What illnesses can't be cured?
  17. Sports
    1. How many people play them?
    2. How do you get fouled?
    3. How many balls are used?
    4. Do they use animals?
    5. For fantasies, is magic involved?
  18. Jobs 
    • Who does them?
    • Do men or women work more?
    • Are there any "dirty jobs" that people look down on characters having?
    • What jobs are popular/glamorous?
  19. Schools
    • Where are people schooled?
      1. Do people go to boarding schools?
        1. Where is the school?
        2. Where do students sleep?
        3. How often do they see their families?
        4. Is technology or magic allowed?
        5. Do they play sports against each other, or rival schools?
      2. Are they homeschooled?
      3. Do public schools exist?
    • Behavior
      1. How well to students behave? Do they do homework?
      2. How are students punished if they don't do work? Follow rules?
    • Is the school known for its teachers?
      1. Are they strict?
      2. Do they give lots of homework?
      3. Are they good mentors?
    • Or is it known for a certain subject?
      • Is there anything that school is forbidden to teach about?
      • Are they forced to teach something that is untrue?
    • What about cliques? 
      1. Who is popular?
        • Is it because of money?
        • Family?
        • Social status outside school?
        • Jobs?
        • Good looks?
        • Hobbies?
      2. Who is nerdy?
        1. See reasons for why kids are popular.
  20. Magic and its limits (If you are writing fantasy)
    • Can it run out?
    • Do you need to say a word?
    • Do you need something to channel it? (Like a wand.)
    • Is it genetic, or can you "steal" magic? If you can get magic, how? Is there a souce?
    • Do only people or animals have magic? Is is gender-specific?
  21. Technology(If any). What do they have in place of:
    • Computers.
    • Telephones.
    • Cars.
    • Refrigerators, ovens, etc.
    • TV.
    • Radios.
    • Keep in mind that if you throw one thing in, something else might have been invented too. Such as, would an ipod exist without the computer?
    • Also ask yourself what if X hadn't been invented, such as the phone?
  22. How People Come of Age
    1. Do they threw parties?  
    2. Is it not a big deal?
  23. Family Life
    • Are people even raised by their families? 
      • How close are people to their parents, siblings, etc? 
        1. Does age affect closeness?
        2. Birth order?
        3. Something else?
    • How close are they to extended families?
      • Do they even see extended families?
    • I know I'm going to get cyber-shot for this but... What about incest? 
      1. Is it taboo?
        • Who hates it?
        • Why do they hate it?
      2. Okay to a degree? For who?
        •  Royalty? 
        • Poor?
    • Adoption. 
      1. Do people frown on it? 
        • Why?
      2. Are all people adopted? 
        • Why?
  24. Class
    • Who is rich? Poor? Etc.
    • How do they view each other?
    • How are the lives of the rich/poor similar? Different?
  25. Prejudices
    • Don't tell me your world doesn't have any prejudice, because sadly it happens.... Look at how many different times the US has been prejudged:
      1. Against black people.
      2. Against Chinese people.
      3. Against Native Americans
      4. Against Irish people.
      5. Against Mexicans.
    • Are people in your world prejudged over looks?
    • Jobs?
    • Customs?
    • No matter what they dislike, think about why.
  26. Celebrities
    1. Do they have any privacy?
    2. Do people look up to them?
      • If so, do they care about their morals?
      • Looks?
      • Fashion?
      • Home life?
      • Religion?
  27. Prisons
    • How do people view prisoners?
    • Has anyone ever escaped? Were they caught?
    • What guards the prisons?
      1. Animals?
      2. People?
      3. Something scary(Example, soul sucking dementors from HP.)
      4. Does location make it hard to escape?
        • Is their prison even on Earth?
        • Underground?
        • On an island?
        • In a mountain?
    • Are there any famous prisoners?
  28. Methods of Communication
    • Do they use animals? (Think owls from Harry Potter.)
    • Do telephones exits yet?
    • Texting?
    • Newspapers?
    • Or just plain old word of mouth?
  29. Time.
    • Does your characters' world run on the same time schedule ours does?
      1. How long is a day?
      2. Month?
      3. Year?
  30. Hobbies.
    • What do people do for fun? This really depends on how advanced your society is. 
      1. If in modern-like times:
        • What kind of TV shows do they watch?
        • Movies?
        • Radio? 
        • Etc.
      2. If in the past:
        • What do they like to read?
        • What music do they like(be warned, I have a whole other category coming just for music.)
        • Mostly, think about what kind of world you have so far, and then ask yourself, "if I was in this world, what would I find to entertain myself?"
  31. Music.
    1. Do they have many instruments? Are there some of ours they don't have? Do they have anything totally new?
    2. Who performs it, singers, an orchestra? Traveling minstrels?
    3. What kind of songs would your character know? I'm guessing if they are from the country, they will know different tunes than the prince of their land will. 
  32. Cultures. How are various countries different?
      1. Does your country run any territories, like how the US "owns" Porto Rico?
      2. How to they dress differently?
      3. Do they speak different languages, or just have different accents but the speak the same language? What do the accents sound like?
      4. Do people have similar, or different names?
      5. Do they follow different religions?
      6. Do have practice different kinds of medicines?
      7. Do they have different methods of communicating?
      8. Are they located in different geographic regions?
      9. I could probably go on all day here, so I'm going to cut this bit off and say that main my advice is just to look at the stuff above and ask how you can make the main country the story is in and other countries really different.
  33. Names.
    1. What kind of names do they have?
    2. Are they similar to our names?
    3. Are they hard to pronounce?
    4. Could you borrow names based off of real-life cultures?
    5. Is it customary to name a child something specific, like naming them after a relative? I once saw Jill Williamson say online, maybe it was on GTWs, that she gave her characters names based off location, like if they lived near the sea, they were named Aljee.JK Rowling is also good at naming characters, if you want to take a look at her naming process, Families in her books tend to have similar names, such as the Evans sisters being named Lily and Petunia, or all of the Black family being named after constellations, or even a character in the epilogue naming their children after loved ones(If you're read it, you know who I mean, but I'm trying to avoid spoilers, for those who haven't read.) Basically, think about what your character's parents might have valued. 
  34. History.
    • What wars have been fought?
    • When were new countries/objects discovered?
    • What are some of the famous inventors/politicians/etc of your world?
    • Are there any dead civilizations? Why?
    • Have there been any civil rights movements of any kind?
    • What have been controversial things in your worlds history? (Like slavery in the US.)
    • Are there any famous disasters?
    • Think about the history of food, fashion, technology, etc. (Glance around this list for ideas. What about the history of medicine? Governments? Etc.) My good friend, Jessi, once gave me some great advice and that is to make sure that your country is changing. It shouldn't be frozen in time forever. New technology should be invented every now and then.
    • For more, I would go to history websites and look at timelines for countries like the US and Britain, and make notes about their history.
  35. Furniture-is it made of...
    • Wood.
    • Glass.
    • Plastic,
    • Stone.
    • Etc.

Wow, this turned out much longer than I thought! Do you guys have anything you want me to add?

Also, I'm thinking of making a series about this. :)

This post was inspired by the following(because you can't make a post this long without some inspiration, trust me! 90% or so of the ideas are mine, but I was inspired by a few people):