Nourish your inner writer: Camp NaNoWriMo this July

Is it time for you to contemplate writing your own book? Consider signing up for the Camp NaNoWriMo starting on July 1st. It features three tracks that I think might interest you:

World-building — Dive deep into the world of your story.’

This track offers a number of cool resources to help you construct the world of your novel, whatever type of genre it’s in: a webcast about building your world with games, three videos and three podcasts about different aspects of world-building, and several blog posts. This is your chance to be omnipotent, to be the creator of your own universe as you want it to look and function! In the graphic above, you can see a snippet of the map I created for the small, eerie town where a good deal of the action takes place in my urban fantasy trilogy. My beta readers have all asked for a map of the town to go into the book, which is a great sign that they got very engaged in my heroine’s world.

NaNoFinMo — Finally finish that novel.’

Maybe you’ve gotten a start on your novel, but need a push to get to the final chapter. There’s advice and a number of exercises to help you work through whatever’s holding you back, goal-setting strategies, blog posts and even pep talks from a variety of published authors. On July 31, 2021 I was able to finally type the words “The End” for my first-ever completed novel. It was something I’d dreamed of for many, many years, and it felt fantastic! For all those years, I wasn’t sure I’d ever write the whole book; it had been just a collection of snippets of action and dialogue, photos I’d collected of what different locales would look like, and myriad jottings of plot notes. So, if you’re part-way through, go and finish – your soul will thank you.

Camp Memoir — Write true stories from your life.’

This is one I may sign up for in the future. Quite a few people have asked me to write a memoir of the travels my hubby and I have done. Our journeys are always an adventure, coloured by all kinds of strangeness, from earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to wild & crazy weather to interesting local encounters. People have actually asked us where and when we’re going next so that they can head in the opposite direction. But writing a good memoir isn’t just about recounting your life – there’s an art to it. Check out this blog post on Reedsy, What is a Memoir? True Life Stories, Minus the Boring Parts – if you have a good story to tell, it will give you a great idea of what’s involved in turning it into a memoir that fascinates readers. Then choose this camp track for all the great resources on tap, from blog posts to pep talks to Ted Talks and more.

Each track has a nifty banner you can post on your social media as well. Whatever you choose, best of luck and have a lot of fun!

World-building: Just the Facts, Ma’am

The July 4th fireworks began just as the sun was setting, sprinkling their bright colours across the Niagara River as they rose and burst into a thousand stars. We’d just finished dinner at 7 p.m. and walked across the road from our house to see them …

Wait, what??? In the latitude of the Niagara River, which joins Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, at the start of July the sun doesn’t set until 8:58 p.m.

Information like this is easily looked up online now. A great many of your readers might not know the difference if they’re in distant parts from your setting, but even a detail like the timing of the sunset greatly influences a local culture. From living in the area, I could tell you the following about summers in southern Ontario:

  • Days are long and we make the most of the extended light in the evenings – at the beach, on a restaurant patio, on a golf course, in our back yards below lights strung in trees.
  • The humidity is high. The two great lakes in proximity generate a lot of moisture in the air year-round, but when the hot days roll in, the combination of ninety-degree heat and ninety percent humidity turns the area into a steam bath and the inside of a vehicle into a sweltering oven. It makes life challenging for anyone of low income who can’t escape from the heat, for senior citizens and those with health issues, for any pets unlucky enough to not have thoughtful owners. On the worst days, I’m typically hiding inside, because even the short trips between my air-conditioned car and air-cooled buildings are draining. I up the ante on my antiperspirant with dustings of baby powder, wash clothes more often. Several years ago we attended a family wedding where one of the guests, an elderly woman, fainted from the stifling heat inside the church.
  • The pollen count tends to be high. There are a lot of gardens dotting the landscape, as well as numerous orchards and vineyards. Allergy sufferers don’t love our summers. But, for garden lovers and photographers, summers are paradise.
  • Farm markets are abundant from June, when fresh strawberries make their luscious appearance, to juicy August peaches, to autumn when a wide variety of fat pumpkins fill market bins. I usually make a weekly trip out to my favourite market to see what they have that I can embellish our dinners with.
  • Canada geese, our most majestic bird, poop everywhere. It tends to drive golfers nuts, and some courses hire dogs to chase off the geese as much as they can. Personally, I’m happy to step carefully for the privilege of having these beautiful birds in our lives.

There are hundreds of other details that make up life in the area. Without living hereabouts, it would be impossible to know them intimately, and readers don’t expect that from you, but even a short vacation would give you enough information to add some authentic local colour to your book. Since most of us can’t just pick up and travel to every foreign place in the world to absorb the local culture, we can follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous mystery writers in history, who was equally famous for both her British flavour and her exotic settings – Agatha Christie. She wrote about what she knew, from the villages of England and 1930s London, to the places she visited on her travels – Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and more. Who are we to disagree with her methods? 😊

It was five o’clock on a winter’s morning in Syria. Alongside the platform at Aleppo stood the train grandly designated in railway guides as the Taurus Express. It consisted of a kitchen and dining-car, a sleeping-car and two local coaches.

By the step leading up into the sleeping-car stood a young French lieutenant, resplendent in uniform, conversing with a small man muffled up to the ears of whom nothing was visible but a pink-tipped nose and the two points of an upward-curled moustache.

Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express

Building the world of your novel

Very gothic-looking church and graveyard near the Hill of Tara, Ireland

Novelists create fictional worlds for their story to take place in, even those novels set in the real world. The best world-building makes readers feel like they could be reading about an actual place, even if it’s completely imaginary. While some people find it difficult to get into the extensive details of Middle-Earth provided by J.R.R. Tolkien, for example, for legions of fans it’s almost heart-breaking to finish the final chapter and have to leave the hobbits, elves, and the Shire behind when the back cover has been closed.

Tolkien spent years creating his many-layered world, from different cultures and their history (like the dwarves, who loved to mine for gold and had a reason for hating the forest elves), to vividly-imagined landscapes and even several languages and songs. Tolkien even created his own artwork to depict the worlds within worlds his characters inhabited.

It took Tolkien twelve years to complete his masterpiece, and not many writers will follow in his footsteps, but we also have much easier access to research than he did, at our fingertips.

Authors may put together thousands of words in backstory, a large part of which may not make it into their book, but it nevertheless creates a realism in the writer’s mind that they can refer to again and again. Think about how many details and layers to our actual world.

Of course, writers don’t need to build that complex a picture, and if you enjoy research it’s easy to get distracted by and lost in all the material you can pull off the internet, to the point where the book doesn’t get written. But whatever world you’re creating, the details you do put in the book need to be plausible enough that the reader doesn’t get unintentionally ejected from the story by something that doesn’t work.

A photo like the one I included above could provide a lot of information if you were writing a scene involving an old cemetery in Europe. There are so many useful details in it — the hoary old trees, the puddling of rain on the gravel path (from which you might surmise how heavily the rain was falling), sagging old tombstones scattered seemingly randomly around the grounds (rather than the neat rows of our North American cemeteries), the pale stone of the old church looming like a ghost among the trees.

I’ll write more on this subject in the future, but for now I’d recommend the World-Building Guide offered as a free resource by Reedsy on their blog: Worldbuilding Guide & Template: Your #1 Resource.

I invite you to imagine a story around the photo. I can tell you what I was doing there — walking through the grounds to get to the Hill of Tara — but you could think of any other number of reasons why someone might be there. Have fun with it!

All photos are by me unless otherwise specified and all rights reserved. E. Jurus