The Secret Society Guide to Noveling

So, anyhow, I don’t remember what I had set out to look up on Google when a Wikipedia article sidetracked me into secret societies.

I rationalized the distraction by deciding that it was research for the Academy of the Accord series, since there are two secret society type groups in it – the Bastions, and the as yet unnamed “wizards in the tower” – two groups that should be at odds with each other but are working (separately) for the same goal.

Plus, of course, there’s the superhero thing that’s been kicking around in my head for a while, although it’s a long way from coming to fruition. The information might be valuable for that, too…

Okay, so I was procrastinating.

Procrastinating is not necessarily a bad thing: it gets me closer to crunch time and I tend to be a lot more focused with a deadline looming nearer and nearer and nearer…

And the deadline that is sneaking up on me is to put together a lesson plan for Saturday morning’s character creation workshop as part of a series of workshops to get prepped for NaNoWriMo.  (I’ve been creating characters and writing stories for as long as I can remember:  how do you teach something that is second nature to you?)

Anyhow, in my secret society searches, I came across an article on how to create a secret society,  and, while it reads like a fun activity for kids in fourth or fifth grade, it also has some not bad advice for…

… well… for creating a secret society.

(And it has spawned a plot bunny that I really don’t have time to deal with right now but I think it’s not going to go away any time soon and I might be able to hook it up with another plot bunny that I’ve had for a while…)

Anyhow, the other thing about that how to guide, is that if you look at it from another angle, it gives pretty good advice for world-building and writing in general.

Let’s look at it:

1) “Create a secret or secret mission.”  Well of course a secret society needs a secret – otherwise it wouldn’t have a purpose.  A novel needs to have a purpose too – but we call it a plot.

2) “Read a few clique-like books, like the clique series by Lisi Harrison, for some background information, although, maybe not so mean like they were.” Research!  Not necessarily factual stuff, but know your genre. I write fantasy (and some science fiction) because that’s what I mostly like to read.  If I tried to write a romance novel, especially historical romance, it would be irredeemably bad, unless I spent a lot of time reading romance novels, which I have no wish to do.  Ditto murder mysteries, although I could, if pushed, probably plot one out – I would enjoy the challenge of creating the puzzle.

3)  “Think of a name.”  Oh, don’t get me started on names!  But they are necessary, not just for secret societies but for novels and the people and places and institutions in them.

4) “Conduct a proper initiation for you and your closest friend.” It’s always good to have someone to bounce ideas off of.  Bringing someone else into your world lets you see holes and flaws that you might not notice on your own.

5) “Figure out what your society does.  Who rules it and how? Theocracy, monarchy, democracy?  What sort of industry does it have? Is there a class or caste system?  How spread out is it and how do people travel? Gender roles?  And lots more – this question can take a year to answer if you want to go in-depth. (I have a bad habit of doing a lot of this part of the world-building as I go.)

6) “Find potential members.”  Yep, ya gotta have characters.  (Actually, I usually start with the characters but I know that not everyone does.)  And not just your main characters – they don’t exist in a vacuum.  They have family, friends, enemies, people from their past… Not to mention the people that populate the world around them, rather like extras in a Western movie.

(Alternately, identify potential readers for this thing.)

7) “Induct your members.”  Now that you have characters, get them into your society and get them doing stuff.

(Alternately, turn your potential readers into people who are actively interested in your progress.)

8) “An important thing in secret societies is to meet in secret, that means meeting in a new place every time or having access to a secret room somewhere.” You’ve created a whole world – move your characters around in it.

(Alternatively, sometimes writing in a new and different location will increase your productivity.)

9) “Make a dress code.”  Don’t forget to show the reader your stage dressing.  I’m really guilty of this, especially in my first draft: I know what the scene looks like, what my characters look like, and what they’re wearing, but do I let the reader know?  No, not usually.  If I’m lucky I put that in the second draft but sometimes it doesn’t get there until a beta reader beats me over the head.

10) “Keep quiet and have fun.” Yeah, you want some people to know what you’re doing, but sometimes it’s best to keep it to yourself, with just occasional reminders to friends and family about your project.  Enthusiasm for your project is natural and good – you should fall in love with it.  But talk about it too much and your loved ones’ eyes glaze over.  I know: I’m guilty of it.  So guilty, in fact, that I actually made a sign to put on my computer that says. “No one else cares about your writing so STFU about it.”

11) “Initiate well to do people in the society.” Make connections!  Network with other writers and other creative types. Beg for beta readers. (And if you come up with a successful means of doing so, please share.  I fail at it.  Badly.  But I’ll keep trying.)

12) “At first, be friendly, but do not reveal the central secrets of your society.” Share excerpts, but don’t give away the whole plot.  After all, you might want someone to read the whole thing someday.

13) “There needs to be a way to get rid of someone if they become bad for the group or start talking—like blabbing the society’s secret.” I know it’s hard, but sometimes characters have to die, no matter how much you love them.  (I rarely kill my characters.  I think I’ve only killed two that I cared about:  one because she deserved to die and one because… well, because it made for a better story to kill her.)

Writing guides can be found in the darnedest places…

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