Untitled (6.5) (2016)


(Spring Forest)

Shannon and Alyce nodded, the former absently, though neither made a move to leave. Oifa just muttered something about “planes, not time” that he couldn’t fully make out. Truthfully, he didn’t feel like leaving either. The site had a sort of hypnotic appeal, a draw that he couldn’t define.

At a loss, Tobias looked as closely as he could for symbols or the glint of light on a stone. Remaining conscious of the dividing line took some work, it was easy to get focused on searching and forget.

Nothing stood out to him, nothing obvious in his line of sight anyway. There could be something in the center, but going in before they knew what it was would not be a good plan. He’d spent enough time at the Tower to know better than to mess with strange, possibly rogue, magic. Master Thomlin was still in recovery, a month after his incident.

With a sharp, dog-like, shake of his head, Tobias broke the proverbial spell to see the falling angle of the sun’s light.

He shook Oifa and Shannon by the shoulder. As Oifa collected Alyce, he said, “Let’s go eat, or Gavin’s likely to come after us swords first.”

Alyce flashed her first smile, “He’d have to outrun Cierra, and even a wolf with a burning tail couldn’t beat her.”

They were halfway back when they all caught the scent of frying onions and an undercurrent of cooking meat. The combination drove out all concerns about the anomaly and quickened their pace.

Alyce led Tobias by a few paces. He found the fire built up to a modest level in one part of the pit. The other contained glowing coals and a couple black frying pans. Cierra was turning a haunch of something masked by the onion drifting on the breeze. Gavin seemed to be manning the skillets and a couple coffee pots. When he spotted the team, he waved.

“”Fried potatoes, pork, and mixed greens,” Marker said, “And boiled coffee, hot water for anything else.”

Tobias looked askance at both.

Gavin shrugged, “We got to talking while you were busy. She convinced me to cook out here tonight.”

Tobias’s stomach growl was echoed by Oifa’s and Shannon’s. All three fell onto log seats by the fire, their eyes locked on the meal-to-be.

Yer a Jedi, Harry: Education in Worldbuilding


Unseen University.

Sunnydale High School.

Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

The Jedi Academy.

Illuminati University (IOU).

Most worlds have some sort of education involved, whether mundane, military, paranormal, or something else. These are, for obvious reasons, especially popular in older children’s and YA novels. On one hand, they offer a shared experience with the reader. On another, they present an interesting place ot be explored without the presence of parents.

But, as writers, gamers, and worldbuilders in general, what should we know about educational institutions? What information should we have at our fingertips and/or present to our audience?

The following are some basics. Obviously, more detail can be added, such as traditions, rumors, and superstitions. But, I think this is a good baseline level of info.

Description—First, we should know what the place looks like. Is there one building or many? What do they look like? What is housed in each building? What are the grounds like? Are there any special rooms, ex. Hogwarts’s Room of Requirement? What is the feel of the school, e.g. dark, regimented, loose?

Curriculum—What is taught at the school? Are there formal classes or individual mentorships, or both? How long does completion usually take? Are there required subjects or classes? If so, for how long, e.g. it takes seven years to graduate, but History is only required for three of those years?

Ex. Hogwarts takes seven years to graduate, and some classes are only taken for four years. they teach both magic and history along with some elective subjects.

Who’s in Charge?—Who oversees the school? What title does this person hold, ex. headmaster, chancellor, president? Does this person have an assistant? Is there a group instead? How does one become the head or join the group? Who is this person or are these people?

Ex. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore oversees Hogwarts with a Deputy Headmaster, Minerva McGonagall, both chosen by the board of trustees.

Who runs the place?—Who handles the daily operations of the place? What non-teaching staff are present? Where do they live, do they have offices?

Ex. Argus Filch, Hagrid, and Madam Hooch are in charge of maintenance, groundskeeping, and sports coaching (more or less) respectively. Each has an office and/or living space on the grounds.

Faculty Hierarchy—Are the faculty divided into different groups? If so, how? Are the faculty ranked? If so, how?

Ex. University faculty are generally divided by department (field of expertise) grouped by “College” (ex. Arts & Sciences or Technology). They also have a hierarchy from adjuncts to non-tenure track to assistant professor to associate professor to professor (rarely adding university professor) to emeritus (retired).

Student Requirements—What does a person need to do to be accepted as a student? What age do they have to be? Are there gender, race/species, or skill requirements?

Ex. Hogwarts students can be any gender, but must be 11 years old and wizards/witches (House Elves or Goblins need not apply).

Faculty & Staff Requirements—What does it take to become a member of the faculty or staff? What process does one go through? What background does one need? Is there an age requirement?

Ex. Hogwarts seems to appoint professors based on interviews with the Headmaster (ref. Sybil Trelawney), or the Headmaster’s decision to offer a position (without an interview, ref. Remus Lupin, Horace Slughorn, and “Mad Eye” Moody).

School Rules—What sort of things are forbidden in the school? How are the rules enforced? What punishments can be handed out?

Ex. Hogwarts has relatively few rules—no magic in the halls, no Forbidden Forest, curfew. These are enforced by patrolling faculty, who can hand out detentions and take House Points away from offenders’ Houses.

External Oversight—Is there someone or a body of someones outside the school that provides external oversight? If so, what powers do they have? How does one take up this role? Do they get their authority from somewhere else or just from the school?

Ex. Both the Board of Trustees and the Ministry of Magic have some oversight of Hogwarts. The Board can choose to force resignations of faculty and staff, up to and including the Headmaster. The Ministry’s powers vary, depending on legislation (ref. HP and the Order of the Phoenix, esp. Dolores Umbridge).

Brief History—What has gone on at the school? When was it founded? How many leaders has it had? Was it involved in any major historical events? Was it built all at once or over several decades (or centuries)? Has its role changed over time?

Ex. See Hogwarts: A History; see also the history of the Jedi Temple (SW: The Old Republic, SW episodes 1-3)

Untitled (6.4) (2016)

No picture this time

An hour later, Gavin had completed his circuit and was sitting on a log by the campfire. Sunlight, filtered through the trees, glinted off a small collection of steel at his feet. Tobias had finished surveying the tiny camp a while back and joined him to talk over any safety concerns. the others were huddled together a few yards away, occasionally shifting stones and other items Tobias couldn’t see. For a wizard and witch by early training, he thought they were working together quite well.

All four were engrossed in their activities when two young women walked into the camp.

Gavin was on his feet before Tobias had even processed the arrivals. After a second taking in both women, he waves a finger and Gavin sat, taking an oil cloth to the long dagger he held.

Tobias took a moment before speaking, assessing both as he was sure they were assessing his people. Both were young, probably in their last year of low magic training. They’d be the youngest who were trustworthy, the most expendable from other duties. And they were almost in a uniform of worn hiking boots, loose jeans, and different colored flannel shirts against the mid-autumn chill. The one on the left had a wide bladed short sword on her belt and the other a long knife, both radiating low level magic.

He guessed both were witches, a fair assumption with the Coven.

After exchanging wary looks, he decided to break the silence.

“I’m guessing you’re the Coven people Samson said would be here,” he bowed very slightly, “I’m Master Jacobs of the Tower. My colleagues, Masters Riallo, Salovich, and Marker.” Each nodded in turn.

The right hand woman, who was also the darker of the two, Tobias guessed some Iberian lineage, nodded, “Cierra and Alyce. Senior witches of the Coven.” He noticed that both bowed lower to Oifa and Shannon, before he remembered that the Coven was effectively matriarchal.

Waite knew that. Should know it, and still put him in charge instead of one of the others.

“Master Salovich,” he said, “would you be our liaison with the Coven, if needed?”

At her nod, Tobias turned back to the young witches. Probably “senior” meant senior students, he thought.

Aloud, he asked, “What can you tell us about the anomaly? How long has it been here and how big is it?”

Cierra went to sit by the fire as Alyce spoke.

“Our people sensed it nine days ago,” she said, standing near the three magic instructors. “Then it was small, but it grew before the elders decided to get aid.”

“What do you mean ‘grew’?” Shannon asked, “What are we looking at?”

Alyce shrugged, “If we knew, we wouldn’t need help. But, it’s probably easier to show you.” She glanced to the sword bearing Cierra, who nodded. “I can take the three of you to see it. It’s only about fifty yards that way . . . today. Yesterday, it was a few yards further off.”

“Sounds good,” Tobias said. “So, it’s growing a few yards a day?”

“That’s our guess. If you’ll follow me . . . it’ll only take a few minutes to get to the edge. But, don’t cross.”

After a brief walk, Alyce raised a hand to bring the trio to a halt. She pointed ahead toward another part of the woods.

“What are we looking at?” Shannon asked.

“The anomaly.”

“More detail, please.”

“Look at the trees.”

A second later, Oifa broke the silence.

“Oh . . . yes. Look at the woods around us. Leaves are changing, it’s mid-autumn,” she said, then pointed, “Look at the ones over there . . . they’re budding. Early spring?”

Alyce nodded, “The are is the anomaly seems to be four or five months ahead of us, or six behind.”

“How big an area’s affected?” came from Tobias.

“About a two mile diameter circle. But, it has been growing slowly.”

“Has anything been done to contain it?”

“No, we haven’t had any ideas how to.”

Tobias turned to Oifa, “Temporal effect?”

The woman shrugged, “Possibly, but they’re exceedingly rare and take tremendous energy to affect a small area. This is comparatively huge, exponentially larger than any temporal effect I’ve heard of.”

All four stared at the trees for a few minutes. Tobias reflected that the contrast would be more obvious in a couple months, but the affected area would be at least another half mile in diameter by then. Assuming it grew at a constant rate.

“I think we’ve seen what we can for now,” Oifa said, her eyes locked on the incongruously new buds.

Tobias nodded, “Agreed. Let’s get some sleep and work on containing this thing tomorrow. Somehow, I think the Headmaster’s time estimate is going to prove wrong.”

Who’s There?: Organizations in Worldbuilding

Death Eaters.

The Harpers.

The Rangers.



Part of any society is organizations, groups of people of various sorts.

Humans, at least, seem to have a desire to gather and become associated with each other.  Obviously, there are exceptions, but in general this appears to be instinctive.  Other sentient species may be different.  But, for our purposes we’ll assume they’re similar enough for this post.

So, all fictional worlds have groups, whether official or otherwise.  Therefore, we need to know some information about these groups.  Which begs the question: what do we need to know?

I think there is a relatively small core of information that we need for groups in our worlds.  There can be more, certainly, if we wish to develop more detail, or if the group becomes important to the story, but that’s bonus above the baseline.

Leadership—Who is charge, if anyone?  Equally important, how is that person or group chosen?  What can that person/group do, or not do?

Ex. A university is run by a president who is chosen through a job search conducted by the board of trustees.

Organization—How is the group organized?  Is there a hierarchy or other system of ranks?  Is there local, regional, national, or global leadership/organization?  Are there sub-groups (e.g. departments)?

Ex. A motorcycle club has ranks of membership and is often set up with local, regional, and national chapters.

Goals—Why does the group exist?  What is their purpose?

Ex. The Red Cross exists to provide assistance in disaster and other situations in which medical and supply aid is needed.

Where are they?—Are they purely local, regional, national?  Are there any places they frequent?  Hangouts?  Bases of operations?  Types of places they tend to turn up?

Ex. The CIA is based in Langley, VA but maintains field offices in various parts of the world.

Relations with Others—What do they think of other organizations in the setting?  Do they interact with any others?  Do they have allied groups, enemies, or groups they are (un-)friendly with?

Ex. The KKK really hates the NAACP; the NAACP maintains good relations with the Democratic Party.

What do they do?—Does the group conduct research?  Stage protests?  Fight others?  Educate people?  What is it that they do when they gather together?

Ex. The 22nd SAS conducts counter-terrorism and reconnaissance operations in military conflicts, including a wide variety of combat and recon missions.

Who can join?—If someone wants to join this group, can they?  What do they have to do or be to join?  Is there an entry ritual?  Does the group only take certain kinds of people?  Why?

Ex. To join Hillel, one must be Jewish, but otherwise simply shows up at a Hillel meeting.

Brief History—How long has the group existed?  Has it been involved in any notable historical events?  When was the group created?  What has it done in the last 10, 50, 100, 300 years?

Ex. The Black Panthers were heavily involved in the Civil Right Movement of the 1960s in the U.S., including a variety of protests and demonstrations.

Untitled (6.3) (2016)


(World Wildlife Federation)

He told the others, “The anomaly’s about a twelve hour hike, but they’ll get us there in a couple hours. Then they’ll be dismissed.”

Tobias decided, after a couple minutes, that the ride was surprisingly smooth. They had a gentle, even soporific, rocking motion. And they seemed to need no direction.

After an hour, Gavin drew beside him. A glance ahead showed Samson far beyond them, with Oifa and Ariel. Shannon was in the middle distance.

Barely audible, Marker said, “He had at least three others watching at the border. I think a couple are flanking us.”

“Understandable,” Tobias nodded. Honestly, he’d be surprised if they weren’t paranoid about non-aligned visitors.

He tried to settle back and enjoy the ride as best he could. The others appeared to be getting along well with the situation, at least for the time being.

When Tobias found himself finally adapting to the beast and felling fully comfortable, they drew to a halt. The Coven camp was within sight, through the thin flora.

The group dismounted faster than mounting. Minutes later, most of the shade steeds faded from sight, leaving only Samson’s. Without a word, the Coven mage turned and left the Tower people to enter the camp.

As Ariel had said, it was tiny; only two small tents and a campfire. They had a laundry line strung up near the fire and a small bucket of water. The others were wandering the site, among the trees. He didn’t see anyone outside their company.

“I think they run daily perimeter walks,” Ariel said. “The tens and food are over there. You known how to contact me if you need anything.”

Tobias nodded, “We’ll be fine, we’ll catch up with the Coven when they get back.”

Even for the inexperienced, setting up their part of the camp only took a few minutes. the longest phase was dividing up the supplies. Tobias carried his share into his tent. He ducked, almost crawling, to get inside the blue and grey nylon shelter. Inside, he rose to full height and stretched his back. All his personal effects were quickly stashed in the tent’s front room along with the group supplies. The smaller back room held nothing but a cot, which looked serviceable though not as comfortable as his bed.

Tobias shrugged to himself. It could be worse.

He went back outside, the tent was just a place to sleep and research as needed. The area around the camp was quiet, deciduous forest dense enough to filter the light but not to make the area dark. There were shrubs and bracken, but not within the bounds of the camp. He noticed some marks on trees and the ground in a circle around the camp. The whole encompassed an area a few dozen feet across. the marks weren’t familiar, but he assumed they were standard wards against mundanes, scrying . . . probably insects.

Soft footfalls on the grasses told him Oifa was done inside. She stopped just to his left, quietly looking the same direction.

“The anomaly’s supposed to be nearby,” he mused, “but I’m not seeing anything unusual. You?”

Oifa stared for a few moments and shook her head.

“There is something, but nothing I can see clearly past the wards,” she said. “But the woods don’t feel right. The animals, even with the wards, just aren’t . . . something’s just off.”

“Maybe they’ve moved and the trees are blocking the affected area,” Shannon opined, joining them.

“Shouldn’t something be visible, or something?” Gavin asked.

“Maybe, depends on what the anomaly is,” Oifa said.

“While we’re waiting,” Tobias suggested, “Let’s get a feel for the area. Gavin, could you check the perimeter? Oifa, Shannon, give us a baseline for the immediate area? Something to compare this anomaly to when we get to see it. I’ll look around the current set up, see if we need anything else.”

Tips & Techniques: Self-Editing

I’ve been back to work in the writing center for a couple weeks now, tutoring, so I thought I’d put together a few posts of tips and techniques that seem to crop up a lot with the students I see.

 I figured I’d lead off with self-editing.

For editing my own work, I’ve used a few different techniques and I’ve had students tell me about others that work well for them. So, without further ado . . .

 1. Print versus Screen

I find the difference between print and screen reading is often helpful in identifying errors and putting a different spin on what I’m reading. This is especially the case since I can take the print copy into different environments, if I don’t want to tussle with iOS to get it transferred to my tablet.

2. Magnify on the Screen

Many students have told me that a trick they use to good effect is magnifying the text on the screen. In these cases, they’ll type in Word at 100% magnification, then do their editing at 125 or 150% magnification. The size change of the document helps them spot proofreading errors and missing words.

3. Read Out Loud

This is one of my favorite recommendations for students who come into the center. Reading the document out loud is helpful on a couple levels. First, reading out loud is slower than reading silently, so the mechanism forces us to read slower and more carefully. This, of course, helps us pick out missing words and typos. Second, reading out loud causes us to process the text more than reading silently. When we read silently, we process the words once. When we read out loud, we process the words visually, then convert them to vocalization, then hear them . . . so we process the words three times instead of one. And our ears often tell us when something sounds wrong, which usually indicates a missing word, problematic phrasing, or an incorrect word choice. Reading aloud to someone else can be especially helpful in this regard, as an extra set of ears.

4. Cover Passages (good for checking commas and pronouns [I vs. Me])

Physically covering up phrases can be very effective in determining a few issues. This is primarily useful, in my experience, for comma usage and first person pronoun usage. The short version: if the sentence makes sense without the covered phrase, then the phrase should have commas around it (because it is an interjection or bonus detail). If the sentence doesn’t make sense, then the commas are in the wrong place. Likewise, the use of I and me tends to confuse people. We are often told that the proper construction is “my sibling and I”, but this isn’t always true. What we have to do is read the sentence with “my sibling and” covered up, so reading it as I or me and determine which makes grammatical sense. For instance, “My brother and I ate sandwiches” is correct (“I ate sandwiches”), but “Our mom gave my brother and I sandwiches” is incorrect (“Mom gave I sandwiches”) and should be “Our mom gave sandwiches to me and my brother” (“Mom gave sandwiches to me”).

5. Read Backwards

A lot of things I’ve seen have also suggested reading the document backwards, e.g. starting at the last sentence of the last page and working toward the first. I’m not entirely sure of the effectiveness or usefulness, but apparently some swear by it. Could be worth a try.