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Worldbuilding: Pigments and Dyes

Pigments were used pre-written history. From charcoal created by fires, to colored clay, to mashed insects, people fell in love with color.  The first recorded mention was in 2600 BCE.

In the rules of magic, can things simply switch from one color to another or are there rules of physics behind it? In a Fantasy or Science Fiction world you can utilize existing items or create your own.

In your historical time frame, did people trade and have access to distant sources of pigment?

It is important to know when and where people had access to colors. Natural dyes were being replaced by synthetics in the 1870s. 

Natural pigments from bark, clay, berries, fungi, leaves, lichens, nuts such as walnuts, roots, wood, and other biological sources mixed with oils, water, mud, even feces decorated everything from walls to skin.

Carmine comes from an insect, cochineal, and is native to tropical and subtropical South America, Mexico, and Arizona. It was recorded in the 1400s.

Henna is a plant that grows in the Arabian Peninsula, South and Southeast Asia, parts of North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. It produces oranges to reds and when mixed with Indigo produces browns. Henna dates back to pre-recorded history.

Indigo is a plant found in the tropics, east Asia, and Central America and produces a blue-black that can be watered down into a pale blue and mixed with other colors to create greens, browns, and purples. It was also used in ancient cultures.

Kermes derives from insects native to the Mediterranean region and was used as a red dye by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Madder contains two organic red dyes, alizarin and purpurin, and is found in Central Asia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. It produces reds and purples. It made its way to Europe through trade routes then the Americas by ship.

Ochre is an iron oxide pigment derived from clay and comes in a variety of color variations: yellow ochre, red ochre, purple ochre, sienna, and umber. It is found from Africa to Europe.

Royal purple is derived from a mollusk found in the Mediterranean.

Saffron, found in Europe, North Africa, and Asia, results in yellow-orange to rich red.

Woad is a flowering plant that produces blues. It is native to the steppe and desert zones of the Caucasus, Central Asia, Siberia, Western Asia, and spread to southeastern and Central Europe, and western North America. Woad was used in Ancient Egypt.

What do people use for dyes in your Fantasy or Science Fiction world? Are they based on reality or invented? When you invent colors, it is difficult to describe them without referencing known colors or sources of color (peacock, sky, grass etc.).

Colors can be bright, dull, iridescent, neon, shocking, boring, muted, variegated. While your prose doesn't need excessive raptures about color, some times you need to emphasize a visual feast or a depressing vista.

For historical accuracy, you need to know when and how dyes and pigments were available. Educating the reader on unique methods or sources can be a little bit of trivia that will stay with them. I will never forget people using urine to set dyes or crushed insects for cosmetics.


Color can denote royalty, reinforce religious rituals, or bring decades into technicolor life.

Suggested references:

1. Wild Color: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes by Jenny Deanand
2. Colors from Nature: Growing, Collecting and Using Natural Dyes by Bobbi A. McRae

Next week, we take a look at common fabrics.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.


Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer -step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary (Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Worldbuilding: Apparel



Clothes maketh the man.

From Sherlock's hat, cape, and pipe, to Poirot's impeccable suits, to Queen Elizabeth's ruff and crown, details about a character's wardrobe add richness and define who they are ... or who they wish to appear to be.

Do your characters dress to impress, rebel in leather, T-shirts, and jeans, or wear four-inch designer heels while chasing bad guys (Please stop!).

Here are ten questions to consider when designing the wardrobe for your cast.

1. Do people dress to conform or stand out?

2. What clothing items were available and popular at the time?

3. Do clothes indicate status or position?  What prejudices, judgments, status, or honors are attached to items of clothing?

4. What fabrics were possible and popular? Did they have weaving, synthetics, raw materials for wool, silk, cotton, or linen?

5. Are there uniforms? What do they represent?

6. How did they feel about nudity or skin exposure?

7. Were there fashion fetishes?

8. What is your character's preferred mode of dress?

9. Are clothes easily available? Do they have ready to wear? Do they have seamstresses or have to make their own clothes?

10. In a futuristic or magical world, what options are possible? Do clothing items serve special purposes?

Next week, we will take a deeper look at pigments.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.

Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistorical,HorrorLiterary (Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.


SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.


Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Welcome to Worldbuilding

One of the first story building decisions is where and when your story will take place. The promise you made to your reader (genre and subgenre as explored in the Story Building Blocks series) can help determine the setting.

If you choose a Historical or Western novel, you must research a specific time and place.

If you select Science Fiction and Fantasy, you can build a unique story world from the ground up to reinforce theme and tone.

With a Comedy, Con Heist & Prison Break, Gothic, Literary, Mystery, Road Trip, Romance, Team Victory, or Thriller & Suspense story skeleton, you can choose between a real place or a fictional place.


You can keep it vague (small town, big city). You can be specific. You can use a real place. You can base it on a real place and change the name.

Whether exploring a past era, navigating a dystopian/utopian earth, a Fantasy wonderland, or exploring an interplanetary Science Fiction world, setting should add dimension to your story. Too often it is a faintly sketched stage set.

When covering specific periods of time, it is crucial to get the details right. There are nitpickers out there waiting to tear your authenticity apart. Luckily, there are many resources to choose from. From the local library to the wonders of the Internet, there are vast troves of research to help you gather data.

Researching and developing key elements of your story world makes the place and time come alive for your readers and helps you avoid massive plot holes.

Inventing objects, places, and slang words make a Fantasy or Science Fiction world unique. 
Magical creatures and practices enrich your paranormal tale. You are only limited by your imagination. 

Highlighting unknown facts about the past or overturning accepted "facts" will make your historical setting memorable.

For the next few months, we will examine daily life, food, shelter, clothing, art, entertainment, education, government, morals, manners, myths, and legends. We will consider the topography, geography, flora, and fauna. 

You will decide how much your characters know, what they do about it, and how they navigate the world from conveyances to mechanization to technology.

Whether you stick to the comfort of your home town or build a unique fantasy world from scratch, the magic is in the details.

For advanced world-building, the SBB Build A World Workbook is available in print and e-book.

Other titles in the series:

Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book takes you from story seed to conflict outline. The fourteen companion Build A Plot Workbooks, in print and e-book, offer step by step development prompts: ComedyCon, Heist & Prison BreakFantasyGothicHistoricalHorrorLiterary
(Drama),  MysteryRoad TripRomanceScience FictionTeam VictoryThriller & SuspenseWestern.

SBB II Crafting Believable Conflict in print and e-book and the Build A Cast Workbook in print and e-book help you build a believable cast and add conflict based on the sixteen personality types.

SBB III The Revision Layers in print and e-book helps you self-edit your manuscript.

Free story building tools are available at www.dianahurwitz.com.  

Betraying Your Readers

I began the year talking about the importance of keeping your promise to readers. This means deciding the type of story you wish to tell, the content you will include, and the content you will leave out. For instance, don't insert gore into a cozy. Don't promise a mystery and make it a romance with little sleuthing. Don't promise a comedy and insert sexual abuse.

The deadliest sin an author can commit is false advertising.

I'll give you the latest example.

My daughter and I watch scary movies when she visits. It's our thing. At Thanksgiving, we looked up available new movies to rent and found this synopsis:

"Amityville: The Awakening: An ambitious news intern (Jennifer Jason Leigh) leads a team of journalists, clergymen, and paranormal researchers into a supposedly haunted house, only to unwittingly open a door to the unreal that she may never be able to close."

Sounds awesome, right?

Trouble is, the movie is just another Amityville remake with a woman and her three children moving into the house and experiencing the usual plot.

The actual synopsis is: "A woman and her three children move to Amityville and soon are plagued by the terrifying occurrences because they are living in the infamously haunted house."

I don't know where the wrong synopsis came from, nor why it was widely distributed as the synopsis for the movie across so many websites. Someone messed up somewhere.

The bottom line is, we were very disappointed. We kept waiting for the promised story to kick in. It didn't.

As a viewer and a reader, you must be able to trust an author to provide the type of story they promise. It can have twists and turns and a killer surprise ending, but betraying your audience with bait and switch is never okay. Readers will never trust you again. 

Betrayal results in one star reviews. Angry people review more often than content fans.
Living up to your promises earns fans.

For more about how to choose a promise check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and the free tools and information about the SBB series on my website. SBB II and the Build A Cast Workbook help you craft characters. SBB III helps you with revision. And the fourteen genre Build A Plot workbooks help you keep your story promise.


Genre Recap Part 2 of 2

We will continue with four basic characters: heroic Dick, love interest Sally, complicated friend Jane, and villain Ted.

8. If we choose a Mystery skeleton and subgenre, Dick becomes the sleuth and Sally is his love interest distracting him from solving the case. Ted is the person most invested in keeping the mystery from being solved, the perpetrator, or someone attempting to derail Dick's crime solving career. Jane can be Dick's ally or enemy.

Check out the Mystery Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

There are free crime, suspect, and victim profile worksheets available on my website.

9. If we choose a Road Trip skeleton, Dick sets off on a journey with Sally, Jane, and Ted. They can be co-travelers or people Dick meets along the way. It isn't so much the end destination that matters and what Dick learns along the way. The journey can be dramatic or hilarious.

Check out the Road Trip Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book

10. If we choose a Romance skeleton and subgenre, Dick is the love interest (in most cases). Sally is the one looking for love. Jane can be a rival or a supportive friend. Ted can be a rival or the one most intent on keeping the couple apart for reasons of his own.

Check out the Romance Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

11. If we choose a Science Fiction story skeleton and subgenre, Dick is the one in charge of restoring cosmic balance. He can be a starship captain, a research scientist, a rocket engineer, or astronaut. Sally's concerns for Dick keep him from fully concentrating on the problem. Ted is the person or alien providing the cosmic challenge. Jane helps or hinders.

Check out the Science Fiction Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

12. If we choose a Team Victory story skeleton, Dick is the underdog who needs the win. Sally can be frustrated with Dick's need to keep trying. Jane can be a teammate, coach, or sponsor. Ted is the competing side's pro, coach, or person determined to see Dick fail.

Check out the Team Victory Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

13. If we choose a Thriller and Suspense story skeleton and subgenre, Dick becomes the spy who must stop the Ted from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Jane aids Dick but secretly works with Ted. Sally is kidnapped by Ted to add tension.

Check out the Thriller and Suspense Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book

14. If we choose a Western story skeleton and subgenre, Dick heads out to the Wild West to build a home or tame the town. Sally is the desirable widow. Jane is the harlot with the heart of gold. Ted is the evil land baron, corrupt official, or Indian chief determined to drive Dick out of town.

Check out the Western Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book 

A single idea can spawn many stories. If you are confused about what type of story you wish to tell, running them through the different skeletons and subgenres can provide an answer and guide you in sculpting the idea into a story that will be pleasing to the reader. Most readers won't wade through a story when the synopsis reads like a tangled ball of yarn. Being able to tease out the main thread and present it in an intriguing way sells books.

Skeletons offer starting points. There are stereotypical stories and ones that reinvent existing genres. There are no limits to where your imagination can take us. Book addicts just ask for a solid story free of plot holes and confusing threads. The more immersive the journey, the more we will love you for it.

Stay tuned to Game On!. In 2018, we will look at various elements of world building and revisions.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Genre Recap Part 1 of 2

Over the past few months, we have examined fourteen story skeletons based on genres and expanded the options with subgenres.

Story skeletons are not limiting. They can be dressed up, bent, and twisted in a hundred different ways. Fifteen people could be given the same seed and subgenre and you'd have fifteen different stories. Your unique voice, imagination, and use of language cannot be replicated.

Why choose genre first?

Choosing a skeleton for your story helps you keep your promise to readers by choosing elements a reader expects and avoiding elements they dislike, which leads to bad reviews. It provides layers of conflict to supply the satisfying S-curves readers enjoy traveling.

A story idea can be translated into any of the genres. Sometimes it helps to run them through the gamut to see which idea appeals to you. You may have characters you love or a plot idea that intrigues but not know what to do with them. That is where the story skeletons discussed in Story Building Blocks are valuable.

Let's take four basic characters: heroic Dick, love interest Sally, complicated friend Jane, and villain Ted.

1. If you choose a Comedy story skeleton and subgenre, you can send the foursome on any type of journey from road trip to murder mystery. The emphasis is on humor. Dick can be a bumbler or a straight man. Ted can be the opposite or equally silly. Sally and Jane cause funny complications or bring the two men back to earth by alerting them to serious consequences.

Check out the Comedy Build A World Workbook in print and e-book.

2. If you choose a Con, Heist, and Prison Break story skeleton, Dick can be a falsely convicted hero attempting to prove his innocence, but his incarceration strains his relationship with Sally. Jane could be the lawyer intent on gaining Dick's release. Ted is the prosecutor determined to keep him behind bars.

Dick could be a master thief working with Sally to steal a valuable painting. Jane is the security official tasked with keeping that from happening and Ted could be a partner in crime or a competing mastermind determined to steal the same treasure.

Check out the Con, Heist & Prison Break Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

3. If you choose a Fantasy story skeleton and subgenre, Dick becomes the wizard tasked with saving the magical world. Sally can be a distraction (or endangered maiden) in Dick's battle with Ted (the threat to the magical world). Jane helps or hinders the hero or villain.

Check out the Fantasy Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

4. If you choose a Gothic story skeleton, the foursome move to a remote manor house. Dick is the secretive Lord, Sally is the love interest forced to unravel his secret. Jane and Ted are invested in helping her or hindering her endeavor to get to the truth.

Check out the Gothic Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

5. If you choose a Horror story skeleton and subgenre, Dick and Sally must fight off an evil Ted. Jane is usually collateral damage.

Check out the Horror Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

6. If you choose a Historical story skeleton and subgenre, the foursome travel backward in time to any point on the globe and struggle with the limitations and challenges of the period. Dick can be a Prince destined to be King. Ted becomes the villain determined to steal the crown. Sally is the princess caught between the two while Jane secretly longs for Dick or plots with Ted.

Check out the Historical Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book

7. If you choose a Literary skeleton and subgenre, the foursome are embroiled in a life and death drama. Dick can be a researcher determined to find a cure for Sally. Ted represents the evil politician who is against genetic tinkering. Jane could be Dick's assistant or Ted's minion.

Check out the Literary Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

Next week, we continue to explore plot options.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.

Thriller and Suspense Skeleton

Last week, we explored Suspense and Thriller subgenres. This week, we look at the building blocks for the Thriller and Suspense skeleton.

The overall story problem is catastrophic danger that must be averted. 


The reader asks: How will they, and by proxy we, survive such an event?

Something comes along to threaten someone or everyone. The protagonist may have brought it upon himself or may be a completely innocent target.


In Thriller & Suspense stories, the protagonist is the person who eventually saves the day.


The antagonist is the person who poses significant threat to the life and limbs of one person or an entire community. It could be a terrorist who plans to blow up the White House. It could be a mad scientist bent on testing an Ion pulse bomb. It could be the leader of a counter espionage team or a rogue soldier.


The audience may or may not know the identity of the antagonist up front, but they are aware of the source of danger. Someone or something is out to get the protagonist and/or her loved ones. The villain may be a virus, a monster or a serial killer, either way it must be strongly developed and truly menacing to one or many to make us fear it. The reader often knows, or thinks they know, what the threat is at the beginning of the tale. The main character is usually in jeopardy. 

Thriller frameworks involve solving crises that lead to bigger, scarier crises. The hero prevents the villain from achieving his goal, but does so at his or her own peril. You really have to convince your audience of the life and death danger or emotional life and death danger. There are twists on the ending of these stories, but the audience prefers the hero to live.

External Conflict scenes escalate the central conflict. The protagonist finds out the terrorists attacked, has a shootout in a shopping mall, finds and detonates the bomb. These are the key turning points in the overall problem and involve the protagonist, often the love interest and the antagonist. The girl is tied down on the tracks and the hero saves her.

Antagonist Conflict scenes can follow the protagonist as he corners the terrorist leader, loses him, and finds him again. They wrestle over the detonator. The doctor confronts the ethically challenged clinic director and prevents him from injecting lethal bacteria into test subjects. Or, these scenes can follow the antagonist scheming with his cohorts depending on the POV. The antagonist should have equally valid reasons for his actions. It is best to avoid cardboard villains.

Interpersonal Conflict scenes show the friends and foes interfering and taking sides in the central conflict. The protagonist is caught by the henchmen. He is seduced by the pretty spy who really wants to search his house. A kooky scientist tells him crazy theories about aliens. A waitress slips him a note telling him where to find the key to the deposit box with the money in it. If you are following their points of view, you can explore their agendas and side stories.

Internal Conflict scenes explore the hero’s dark night of the soul. He wonders if he should tell his partner about his AIDS. The doctor struggles with pulling the plug on his comatose father. The heroine struggles with her deep wound or dark secret that complicates the external situation. Stay or go? Fight or flee?

Do I have what it takes to do what needs to be done? Is it ethical? Do I care? Do the ends justify the means?


Check out the newly released Thriller Build A Plot Workbook in print and e-book.

For more about how to craft plots using conflict check out, Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict available in print and e-book and check out the free tools and information about the series on my website.