Category Archives: Writing Hints and Helps

Sacrifice and Hard Work: the Life of Author and Story

I was recently listening to our own Donald Williams give an interview for a podcast. In the course of his talk he was discussing how today we have libraries of information at our finger tips, while in the time of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien they had to work harder to get at things. They had to read books, not just google them.  In doing so, they came to know their books and the ideas in them intimately.  He also mentioned why he thought this resulted in a better education–and this is my paraphrase:

The students I’ve seen who have the deepest insights aren’t necessarily the most intelligent ones. They are the the ones who are moderately intelligent and have to work at things a little more. They get to know what they’re talking about more deeply because they have to spend time with it. Lewis and Tolkien had that advantage, plus they were geniuses!

The more I think about that–this idea of slow, patient, intimate knowledge, acquired through hard work–the more this strikes me.  We have such an emphasis on getting things now and getting them without effort that often times we often resent the idea of having to work for our knowledge.  It comes to us so easily! As a result, we don’t think things through for the simple reason that we’ve been trained to believe that doing so isn’t our responsibility.  Someone else will do it for us.  Information takes the place of understanding and wisdom, and it is supposed to come at the click of a button (i.e. We shouldn’t have to actually read all those books for that paper!  Who does that?!).  We purchase the next big thing just because it’s new and someone said it’s better (Is it? Microsoft Anything, anyone?). We vote for the next politician because he/she promises to give us everything we want (“Trust me!  I have your best interests at heart!  Just don’t ask what you’ll be giving up in return….”).  We are too often satisfied with wading in the tepid, muddy, mosquito filled shallows when, if we pushed farther, we could find the cool depth of a sea the end of whose grandeur we can never see.

It takes work to reach the peak, but the view you find there changes everything!

It takes work to reach the peak, but the view you find there changes everything!

Is it sometimes any different with our fictional worlds?  Are we in such a hurry, so desperately busy, that we just try to reach in and grab what we can before rushing on to the next shiny thing and expect people to praise our work simply because it is our own?  Do we live in our worlds and get to know every rock and pebble like an old friend, as Tolkien did? Do we see them in our mind’s eye so clearly that we get lost in the details of a scene, like Lewis did? If we ourselves don’t take the time to really dwell in our worlds, to speak with our characters, and to understand them as friends and family–if we simply “process” them and spit out fiction as a result–will we ever write anything really worth reading?  Perhaps more importantly, even if it’s worth reading, will it be worth remembering?

I’m afraid not. But therein lies the challenge: Dwelling, abiding, understanding, feeling, etc. on that intimate a level–all of it takes time and is at points uncomfortable. We have to slow down and be willing to work at it. And that is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do. It takes sacrifice. Each opportunity we choose to set aside to write, even if it is just to “live” in our world in a story we know will probably never see light of day, we have to give something else up.

It all comes down to this:  What am I willing to sacrifice so that my world and my creations might more fully live?

Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…


I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends

Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.

My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.


But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food

Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy

Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

StoryBuilding 1.0 – And A Title, Too!

It’s been a busy month, and I’m sure that you are all so relieved to have all the hard parts of story writing so easily taken care of by yours truly.  Really, I am just the nicest person.

But before I let all of these newly fledged stories fly free, I realized that I still have left off one very important part: the title.

choose book titleBecause stories need titles, apparently.  Otherwise, things would get kind of confusing.

So for my last post, here are some helpful suggestions to get you the attention-grabbing, inspirational, unique title that you’ve always dreamed of.

Or something like that.

The usual rules apply.  Pick one from each of the following and watch your title magically appear before your eyes!


1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character
B. Plot
C. Unexpected

2. Structure

A. And
B. Of
C. One Word

3. Add Some Adjectives:

A. Serious
B. Fluffy
C. Mysterious
D. Unexpected

You never knew so much went into titles, did you?  Well, let’s see what happens.

1. Main Words (Choose any or all of the following)

A. Character: Place the main character’s name right there in the title.  Just make sure you give your character a name that is fairly easy to pronounce and spell or else no one will be able to remember the book.  Your character’s name might be the only word in the title, which is a bit self-centered but workable, or your character is defined by something else in the story.
B. Plot: Use one of the following relevant words as the key to your epic title: War, Book, Magic, Quest, or Power.  Whichever one is most central to your story, or whichever sounds most important even if it’s not quite central, that’s what you want to go with.  Many people like to include the character and major plot point just to keep things exciting.
C. Unexpected: If you picked “Unexpected” for what is probably the eleventeenth time, it means you want something random, daring, or inexplicable.  So go ahead and include a “Frumious Hedgehog” or a “Cantankerous Sea Turtle” in your title.  I dare you.

2. Structure

A. And: Using “and” is a great way to sneak a whole lot more information into the title.  Follow one of these formats for a sure-fire win:

[Character’s name] and [mysterious object].

[Character] and [Character] [do something interesting].

[Mysterious object] and [another mysterious object].

B. Of: Including an “of” prepositional phrase is a great way to make your story sound really, really important.  Here are some useful guidelines:

The Quest of the [important thing].

[Character’s name] of [important place].

The [-ing words like: running, seeking, reading] of [important place/thing/person].

[Awesome noun] of [Awesome noun].

C. One Word: One word titles are all the rage, these days.  Just make sure the word is so powerful, so impressive, so though-provoking, so unique, so catchy, and so vaguely relevant to what your story is about that your readers can’t help saying to their friends, “Hey, have you read [Insert One Word Here]?”   Adjectives often work for this.  For example: “Frumious”.  (Now that I’ve given you that example, you can’t cheat and use it, so move on).

3. Add Some Adjectives:adjectives list

A. Serious: Dark, deep, long, final, lost, eternal, scarlet
B. Fluffy: Great, cerulean, shining, magical, new
C. Mysterious: silent, hidden, shadowed
D. Unexpected: grumpy, spasmodic, punctual, crapulous


With this handy guide, you will come up with titles, such as the following gems of my own making (no stealing these brilliant ideas!):

“Archibald and the Cerulean Spoon”
“The Quest of the Cantankerous Turtle”
“The Spasmodic Spies of Spinne”
“Barry and Klive Destroy The World”
“The Silent Telling of the Hidden Tale”

So many perfect titles.  Now all they need are stories.  What titles have you come up with?  Please share!  And happy writing, one and all.

StoryBuilder 1.0: Outline the Perfect Plot!

Now that you have your fabulous main character (and whatever secondary characters you may have scrounged up to accompany the hero in his/her path to glory), and you have a fabulous and fantastical world in which to drop your character, you need a story to tell.  Obviously.

fantasy landscape quest storyYes, plots are necessary, as little as some of us may enjoy writing them.  So in the interest of helping you all in your path to storybuilding glory, here is a plot creator in the method of the previous two posts.  Pick your story-telling options and then find out what adventure your character gets to have!

(Word of Warning: I don’t do plots.)


1. How It Begins

A. With Drama
B. With Danger
C. With Plotting
D. With Something Else Entirely

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest
B. A Political Intrigue
C. War is Brewing
D. Interesting…

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal
B. Death
C. Love
D. An Interesting Development

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph
B. Tragedy
C. Romance
D. Well, That Was Odd


Alright, now for the fun part.  Your story is all but plotted and planned!  Wasn’t that easy?  Let’s see what you’ve got:

1. How It Begins

A. With Drama: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes a tall figure of notable looks carrying some object of mysterious origin and meaning.  This figure informs your character that s/he is meant for Great Things.  This sounds all well and good until the Great Things turn into a very long and uncomfortable enterprise.  But it will be a growing experience.

B. With Danger: Your character is minding his/her own business when, in from the darkness, comes an assassin who tries to kill your character for reasons unexplained.  Obviously, your character really needs to figure out why his/her life is worth threatening.  As luck would have it, someone else will come along very soon who has at least some of the answers and will join your character on this mission.  Is this new character friend or foe?  Hmmm….

C. With Plotting: Your character is minding his/her own business, taking a nice walk on a late evening. S/he stops in at the local drinking establishment for refreshment and overhears a plot of some sort to overthrow or otherwise upset the local or national government.  Naturally, your character will end up involved.  False accusations of treason are fast coming his/her way, and naturally those will have to be responded to with an outright rebellion.  And it had started as such a lovely walk…

D. With Something Else Entirely: Other children received dolls or toy soldiers on their birthdays.  Your character has, for whatever reason, been gifted by a magical gift-giving fairy with the gift of Importance.  Now everyone and his mother wants you on their side of the latest uprising or intrigue and it is up to your character to find a cause and stick with it or else end up on a quest to retrieve the local chicken farmer’s Magical Missing Egg.  Actually, that doesn’t sound like a half bad quest to start with…

2. How it Goes

A. An Epic Quest: However the story began, it inevitably resulted in a quest.  You, a cranky warrior, a mysterious scholar, someone who may or may not be able to use magic, someone’s whose musical skills are barely tolerable, and someone whose skills and worth are yet undetermined have all found each other through one incident or another and are now slogging through marshes and climbing unconscionably tall mountains in order to achieve the object of your quest.  Not that it is necessarily a literal object.  Maybe your quest is to escape the other members of your questing party because they are very annoying and don’t get along at all.

B. A Political Intrigue: There are about ten different sides to this political debacle, and your character is wading through the morass trying to find out whose side is the right side, or at least the side who is killing the fewest peasants and kicking the fewest puppies.  Your characters makes several friends and allies, only to discover that they are all on opposing sides, but all have their own virtues.  One of them is probably going to end up betraying your character while another will be a love interest.  The question is – which is which?

C. War is Brewing: Rather similar to the Political Intrigue, but with a lot more people on each side and a lot more upfront hacking and slashing.  Your character is, as usual, trying to figure out which is the Side of Right and Truth and Justice, but his/her chosen side will often do morally troubling things which will cause moments of existential crisis.  Everything is leading toward an epic battle, which will decide the Fates of Many.  Your character will hold the key to success… for whichever side s/he chooses.

D. Interesting…: Your character’s singular goal in this story is to become the greatest chef this world has ever seen.  Through war and intrigue and famine and plot, your character strives to hunt down the masters of culinary arts and ply them for their tricks of the trade.  Alas, your character’s nemesis, a pastry chef of no small skill, is lurking in the shadows, sabotaging your character at every turn.  Will your character ever achieve true mastery of the art of the kitchen?  Will s/he ever cook for kings?  And is that charming baker who s/he met along the way trustworthy?  And will your character ever be worthy of attaining the Magic Ladle?

3. A Twist Along The Way

A. Betrayal: In a totally unexpected turn of events, somewhere along the way, that really attractive character who seemed so very trustworthy turns out to not be trustworthy.  Your character spends one, possibly two, chapters reeling from this betrayal and several things go horribly wrong as a result.

B. Death: So, there was this cliff.  And there was rain.  And this one person saw a pretty bird and, well…  Your character and any other companions mourn the loss.  Unless it was someone highly suspected of being a traitor.  Then they stand a ponder the mysterious Ways of Justice before carrying on.

C. Love: Your character was so sure that s/he loved the very attractive, rich, cultured, capable person that s/he met along the course of the story, but now it seems that s/he has fallen hopelessly in love with the annoying, less attractive but not horrible to look at, sarcastic, most often unpleasant other person s/he met along the course of the story.  But who can explain the workings of the heart, anyway?  Odds are, Love Interest #2 will turn out to be long-lost royalty, anyway.  

D. An Interesting Development: Your character randomly gains the ability to see the future, but backwards, whenever s/he sneezes.  It’s all very confusing and mostly useless.

4. How it Ends

A. Triumph: Your character overcomes every single obstacle placed in his/her path, even the ones that are statistically and rationally impossible to overcome (because s/he is that amazing) and the story closes in a sweepingly grand picture of resolution.  Everything is in its proper place.  A golden age is most definitely unfolding before the eyes of your character and his/her comrades, and everything will most definitely be fine.  Unless there’s a sequel.  Then everything will be rubbish again in no time at all.

B. Tragedy: Unfortunately, everyone your character ever loved along the way has perished.  Most of them have perished nobly.  A few seemed to perish for no reason at all except to make your character question all of his/her preconceived notions about heroism.  Now, here at the end, your character stands alone, figuratively or literally gazing upon the graves of so many who have been lost… but it was worth it for the Greater Good.  It was…. Really…. Please let there be a sequel with a happier ending.

C. Romance: On a high, grassy hill overlooking a significant city wherein most of the significant story events took place, your character and your character’s One True Love are locked in a tender embrace as they reminisce on all of the unlikely events which brought them to this place.  Every outlook is rosy now.  All previous misunderstandings and hostility erased by mutual life-saving acts which have sealed their bond forever.  If there is an epilogue, it will probably involve two and a half children, just so the readers are sure that these characters meant it.  If there’s a sequel, well, your character would really appreciate it if there wasn’t one.  Things are great.  Let it be!

D. Well, That Was Odd: Your character is sitting in a small, dark room in the predawn light, blinking fuzzily and rubbing sleep from his/her eyes.  It was all a dream?  That whole story that took up four hundred pages was all a dream?  Your character lies back down and decides that maybe s/he isn’t getting up today.  It’s just not worth it.


And there you have it, the perfect outline just waiting to be filled in with your creativity.  Let me know what sort of story you ended up with!  I’m quite curious what sort of havoc I have wrought.

StoryBuilder 1.0: Construct Your Magical Land!

Last week, I gifted you all with the perfect character building machine, and now you all have strange and wonderful characters, but nowhere to put them.  That is easily solved.  We will do the same thing this week with world-building.  After all, you can’t have characters without a world.  At least, I don’t think you can.  Maybe you can.  But probably not.

So here is a world-builder.

magic fantasy castle landscapeThe same rules apply.  Choose options from the categories below and make note of your choice so that you can find out what your wonderful world is like at the end of the post.  Once again, if you go for the exciting and unexpected route, you will get exactly what you deserve for such cheekiness.


1. World Theme:

A. Roman
B. European
C. Asian
D. Totally Not Like Any Culture of This World

2. Add Some Landscape (Add any or all of the below):

A. Ancient Forests
B. Vast Fields
C. Grand Mountains
D. Bodies of Water
E. Something Unexpected

3. Local Color (Add any or all of the below):

A. Merchant Guilds
B. Gladiatorial Combat
C. Spy Network
D. Town Idiot
E. Something Unexpected

4. Government Structure

A. Democracy
B. Dictatorship
C. Anarchy
D. Monarchy
E. Something Unexpected

5. Local Wonder of Choice

A. Mysterious
B. Big
C. Ancient
D. Pretty
E. Something Unexpected


Alright, now that you’ve chosen your fantastical and wonderful and totally unique world attributes, you get to find out more details about your world of choice.

1. World Theme:

A. Roman: Welcome to the land of columns and togas and prodigiously prominent noses.  In your world, a very clean and shiny upper class spends its days bathing and talking about politics while the masses engage in bloodthirsty activities just for fun.  Everything is very well organized, but rebellion is simmering… just beneath the surface.  Business as usual.
B. European: Welcome to a totally unique world in which knights ride around castles and citizens herd sheep, farm, and look upon the occupants of castles for protection against roving bands of mercenaries.  Also, there are probably big, fire-breathing dragons.  Possibly trolls under bridges.  Maybe even unicorns, if you’re lucky.  But don’t pet the unicorns.  They bite.
C. Asian: In a land of zen, your world is filled with pagodas and orchids and very tiny gardens filled with sand and small rocks.  Your culture is clean and civil and all conflict takes place discreetly out of sight.  There are probably also dragons lurking around, but they are much more likely to want to sit down and debate philosophy and politics than they are to burn your house to the ground, which is quite useful.  The other supernatural creatures are not so trustworthy.
D. Totally Not Like Any Culture of This World:  In a land of fluffy castles made of flowers, your world floats on a cloud… in space.  The people are friendly… except when their flowers are stolen.  Herein lies most of the conflicts of the citizens, most of whom are fairies, some of whom are bunnies, and a few of whom are small, curmudgeony polar bears.


2. Add Some Landscape (Add any or all of the below):

A. Ancient Forest: This forest has been around since before anyone in your story can remember, or since their great grandparents can remember.  The trees are taller than most palaces and tend to make deep groaning noises as if they are sentient, which they probably are.  Entire societies of mysterious creatures lurk in these woods, some of which friendly, although most are probably not.  No one who gets lost in these woods ever finds their way out… except your characters because they’re special…
B. Vast Fields: Yes, these might just be here to take up space, but they are also useful for riding across at a quick pace, being inconveniently spotted by the enemy because there is no cover, or standing at one end to gaze at a looming destination on the other side.  These vast fields may or may not have names, but they will definitely be important to the plot.
C. Grand Mountains: Inevitably, these will need to be crossed.  Inevitably, there will be snow at the top.  Also inevitably, there will be trolls or carnivorous mountain goats lurking on the precipices.  And a final inevitability: part of the dangerous paths along the edges of these mountains which have been around for thousands of years will give way at exactly the same moment your characters are trying to cross.  Drama abounds in the grand mountains. Don’t forget to name them.
D. Bodies of Water: Whether it is a lake, a river, a sea, or an entire ocean, having a body of water is quite useful.  Like mountains, bodies of water pretty much always have to be crossed.  That is, except when they need to be dived beneath to discover some sort of underwater city.  Magical beings like to rise out of bodies of water, as well.
E. Something Unexpected: Your world is blessed by the incredible presence of an upside down sky-volcano.  Every so often, it likes to spit fire on the unfortunate masses who dare to live beneath it (luckily, this only happens every few hundred years or so, normally at some significant moment in some significant character’s journey to greatness).  No one knows what’s holding the volcano up or how the lava stays inside an upside down volcano.  It is a source of great academic interest – that is, when it’s not exploding and the academics are making a run for it.

3. Local Color (Add any or all of the below):

A. Merchant Guilds: Merchants are useful folk to have around.  They sell things, buy things, and also seem to know what’s going on in the world.  Their leader is usually corrupt, though, so your character should probably not trust him/her, although most characters will end up in the guildmaster’s debt for some reason or another.
B. Gladiatorial Combat: Inevitably, your character will end up in the ring if your world has gladiatorial combat, so be advised and consider some training to lead up to this.  This cultural atrocity will also figure largely into any sort of revolution against the current government.  Gladiators tend to be more than willing to get behind a rebellion and most corrupt leaders never see it coming.
C. Spy Network: These always know what’s going on, always influence what’s going, and always play both or all sides of any conflict.  The leader of the spy network may or may not be trustworthy.  Spies are shady by nature, so even the “good” ones will probably do some pretty nefarious things in the name of “right” which will cause your character all manner of empathetic guilt.
D. Town Idiot: Adding a touch of humor and the occasional, unlooked for insight, a silly character can be humorous, but also very annoying.  Your character (and your readers) might want this character dead, which will make any sort of sacrifice of the character later a little pointless.  These characters work best in small doses.
E. Something Unexpected:  Your character’s nation engages in the epic sport of bear racing.  Bear jockeys are a courageous lot who ride bears and attempt to get them to lumber forward rather than attack each other, their riders, or the audience.  Most races end a bit violently, but the sentimental attachment to bear racing overcomes all massacres.

4. Government Structure

A. Democracy: All for one and one for all!  Everyone has a say, but strangely, no one seems to care.  A handful of people have somehow still managed to take control of the nation.  This is probably important to your plot.
B. Dictatorship: One evil overlord/lady has taken control of the kingdom.  Obviously, one person should not have all this power and it will take a plucky band of freedom fighters to give the kingdom back to the people/rightful ruler(s)/other.  Don’t forget to give the dictator a very tall and dark and impressive tower to rule from, if s/he is into that sort of thing.  As a fun alternative, your dictator could be a friendly, relaxed person who is doing a very nice job keeping the country in line.  This will probably confuse your character a bit, but I’m sure there is someone else evil enough worth overthrowing.
C. Anarchy: No government exists and chaos reigns in this kingdom.  Your character is probably seeking some sort of order in the face of this chaos, fighting against the many petty thugs who have taken over various parts of the country.  There is a slight likelihood that it will be your character who will rise up to lead everyone (although your character is totally not a dictator or anything).
D. Monarchy: All hail the king and/or queen!  It is generally a toss-up whether the monarch is good or evil and this will usually affect the plot.  A strong evil monarch is often a very exciting villain to stand against.  A strong weak monarch is normally under the thumb of an even more evil power-behind-the-throne villain.  A strong good monarch will be a good ally once you convince him/her that the villain is truly Out There.  A weak good monarch should probably just be put in a corner until everything’s taken care of.
E. Something Unexpected: When your kingdom has social or political issues to be dealt with, a small group of chosen officials ascends a low mountain to present its queries to a sort of magical, giant orb which answers questions with “Yes”, “No”, “Quite Likely”,  “Probably Not”, or “Maybe, Ask Again Later”.  Sometimes the orb takes a good shake or two to get an answer out of it and often the answer is extremely unhelpful, but somehow, your country has gotten along alright anyway.  Your character, on the other hand, might object to this process for some odd reason.


5. Local Wonder of Choice

A. Mysterious: A green stone tower that emits a different song each month stands at the center of a field.  Anyone who tries to climb the tower gets about halfway up before being knocked off by a mysterious force, after which the climber begins to sing that same song as the tower incessantly thereafter.  Normally they also end up mysteriously disappearing later, but this may be because people simply can’t stand the singing.
B. Big: A giant, glowing ball hovers over a lake.  It doesn’t do anything.  It’s just really big and glowy.  Someone suggested touching it and everything called them an idiot.  No one seems to have tried.
C. Ancient: A book sits beneath glass in a small room at the back of a library.  It is covered in script from a language lost in the shadows of the past.  Someday… someone will read it. And then Everything Will Change.
D. Pretty:  It’s glorious, colorful, shimmering, and probably magical.  If you wear it, it might kill you.  Most people just gaze at it in awe.  What is it?  Well, no one actually knows, but it’s really pretty.
E. Something Unexpected: People travel from distant lands to stand within the Forest of Bad Riddles.  The trees tell horrible jokes that have no sensible answer, the kind that you can’t get out of your head, that make no sense, and that make you wish that no one had ever told you about the Forest of Bad Riddles or dared you to spend the night there.  Seriously, if your character has any shreds of nobility, burning this forest to ashes will be the first order of business.

Random, yes, but unique, right?  Now you have a world set up with plenty of space to fill in, magical names to provide to geographical features, and a character to drop in the middle of it all.  But you still need a plot, don’t you?  Don’t worry.  That comes next week.