World-Building & Social Networks with Randy Ingermanson


Good Morning Writers,

Good Morning Writers! ~ 6June16 ~ How to Create A Character

How is your writing going? Are you still struggling with Christmas or Hanukkah obligations or are you relaxed enough to get back into your writing?

My writing life has to change and I am not sure I am up for it. It has occurred to me that blogging has stopped me from finishing several of my writing projects (a love story, a fantasy story and a sci-fi story) which actually are for my blog.

So I have used the holidays and the new year coming for overhauling my writing routine. Well, there is not much of a routine as I work flexible shifts but I am determined to develop one somehow.

Yes, I know some say that a routine is pretty much deadly for creativity while others say it is entirely necessary for creativity. I have come to the conclusion that both is true. Looks like I need a combination of both and I am working on it.

Blogging is easy. You can just get your words out and mostly you get instant gratification and feedback. Writing a novel or short story is harder work and lonely work and I try to get that shift from blogging to actually do some proper writing since some years.

One thing I feel I am not good at yet for my sci-fi and fantasy novel is world-building so Randy Ingermanson’s article about it came just in time.

I want to share it with you and hope it can give you some new ideas too:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 15,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Craft: World-Building and Social Networks

There are three categories of fiction where world-building is very important:

  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • Historical fiction

I haven’t written much on world-building, for one simple reason.

Most categories of fiction don’t require elaborate world-building. I like to write about things that apply to most novelists. So I’ve avoided writing about the topic, even though world-building has been a big part of my own writing life.

I’ve been thinking about world-building lately, and one aspect of it in particular: social networks.

We’ve all become intensely aware of social networks in the last few years because of social media. If you’ve been on Facebook long, you’ll notice that they’re pretty good at guessing who you might want to friend. They do that by looking at who are friends of your existing friends, and they apply a branch of math called network theory.

Network theory has developed massively in the last twenty years, thanks to the growth of the internet, which makes it possible to study in real-time the growth and structure of various real-world networks. Network theory is now widely used in biology and chemistry and physics and political science and economics and computer science and neuroscience and materials science … and, and, and. The list is long.

Social Networks in a Story World

The core idea I’ll talk about today is the importance of social networks in creating a large story world. Mathematicians recently mapped out the social network in Game of Thrones, trying to identify the main character of the series by using various ideas from network theory. You can see the large graph they created on this page.

Most novels don’t have anywhere near the complexity of this social network. But historical novelists routinely deal with social networks that are much larger. I’ve written three novels so far in my City of God series, set in first-century Jerusalem shortly before the Jewish Revolt. I’ll continue to write more books in that series, but I’m also working on a series set in Judea and Galilee a few decades earlier. Social networks have played a key role in working out the history of both series.

I started researching my novels back in the early 1980s, and I quickly felt overwhelmed by the enormous number of people we know about from the various historical sources—Josephus, the New Testament, the Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius, the Mishnah, the Talmud, various apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings, numerous other minor sources, and the archaeological record.

To help me keep track of everyone, I began mapping out the social network of first-century Judea. I started by making lists of the numerous social groups. I found three main groups of aristocrats, two main groups of priests, and three main religious sects within Judaism. These groups had subgroups. I learned that there were five kinds of zealots. There were two main schools of thought among the Pharisees, and each played a critical role in first-century history. There were four families of chief priests who dominated Jerusalem for decades, and one of the four families bullied the other three.

For each of these groups and subgroups, I made a list of every character I could find, along with key information about each—when he lived, where he lived, important things he did or was alleged to have done. In a patriarchal society, most of these were men, but I dug up information on as many women as I could find. Historical information is often fragmentary, but it was not uncommon for a single character to be named in multiple sources, which gave me a more 3-D picture. (You can often learn as much from someone’s enemies as you can from their friends.)

My lists grew to include 151 historical persons, and could easily have been two or three times as large, but I left out many minor characters and most characters born in the first century BC or outside of Judea and Galilee.

Benefits of Building a Social Network

This was a lot of work, but two main benefits emerged:

  1. By combining information about each character from all the available historical sources, I built up a broad picture of who these people were and what they were trying to do. There were often disagreements between sources, but there was plenty of agreement, and any conflicting data gave me room to get creative.
  2. By clumping together similar characters into the social groups they belonged to, I was able to guess at who knew who. Even if no source ever said explicitly that Mr. A and Mr. B knew each other, I could infer that they did if they lived in the same place at the same time and knew the same people. Because (as Facebook knows), a friend of your friend is likely to be either a friend or an acquaintance or at least somebody you’ve heard of.

Can you guess who was the most connected person in this story world, according to the sources?

No, it wasn’t Jesus of Nazareth. It wasn’t Julius Caesar. It wasn’t the historian Josephus. All of these were very influential. They all had many connections. But they weren’t the most connected person in the sources.

The most connected person in the sources was King Herod the Great. Herod was an immensely energetic man, a powerful soldier, a visionary architect and builder, a shrewd politician, and a paranoid family man. He married ten women and sired a number of sons eager to inherit his throne. He executed his favorite wife and three of his sons out of misplaced fears of their disloyalty. Herod was close friends with Marc Antony and Cleopatra and later switched his loyalty to their enemy Caesar Augustus. (When he did, he encouraged Augustus to ignore whose friend he had been and to instead consider what an excellent friend he had been. Herod was nothing if not an opportunist.)

Herod and his sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons were close friends of the emperors of Rome for more than a century. One of his grandsons, Agrippa, brokered the deal to crown Claudius as emperor after the assassination of Caligula. Several of Herod’s descendants are mentioned in the New Testament, and his great-grandson, Agrippa Junior, was a close friend of the historian Josephus. His great-granddaughter Berenike was a mistress to the emperor Titus, who was eleven years younger than her. She must have been amazing. Titus almost married Berenike, which means that a 51-year-old hot Jewish grandmother very nearly became empress of Rome. There’s a story there, no?

When writing my novels, whenever I’ve needed a new character to play some role in the story, the first thing I’ve done was to flip through my list of actual historical characters. More often than not, I’ve found a real person with a real name and a real history that I could pull into my story. Then I could skim through all the known facts about that person to suggest ways to connect that same character at other points in the story.


Historical novelists are notorious for doing way too much research and building far too intricate story worlds. Being a historical novelist is a disease, and there isn’t any cure.

Most novelists don’t need to map out their social networks in so much detail. Even so, it can make sense to ask a few questions about the social networks in your story world:

  1. What are the main groups in your story world? (These might be religious, political, professional, or some other sort of group. Each one might have subgroups.)
  2. What are the conflicts between the various groups and how did these arise?
  3. Which characters belong to each group and subgroup?
  4. What are the conflicts and rivalries between characters within each group?
  5. What are the conflicts between characters belonging to different groups?

Start a file to keep track of your growing social network. Work on it until you get tired of it. Come back to it when you need it. See what happens.

Good Morning Writers: Eat, move, sleep….. and write I suspect


October 2016

How is your writing going? Are immersed in it and forget about the needs of your body and mind or are you conscientious one taking care of both? A few years ago Randy Ingermanson wrote a great article about it and I share it with you again:


November 2013

I have taken this entry from Randy Ingermanson’s November 2013 newsletter:

This article is reprinted by permission of the author. Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, “the Snowflake Guy,” publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 6,700 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

“Organization: Eat Move Sleep”

If you’re human, then you aren’t just a mind. You have a body that houses your mind. Your mind works better when you take care of the body containing it. Your writing will be better if you take care of your body.

I recently read the best-selling book, EAT MOVE SLEEP, by Tom Rath. When he was 16, Tom learned that he had a tumor in his left eye. The tumor got bigger and eventually took the vision in that eye.

That was bad, but the worse news was that Tom has a rare genetic disorder that keeps his body from suppressing tumors. Which means he’s fighting an uphill battle to stay healthy.

That has forced Tom to learn as much as possible about his health.
What he’s learned is that small choices matter. Lots of small choices. None of them seem to be a big deal. But they add up to a big deal. EAT MOVE SLEEP summarizes what he’s learned.

I’m a bit hesitant to review this book, because opinions on diet, fitness, and health vary wildly. What one person “knows” to be absolute truth, somebody else “knows” is absolute balderdash.

So let’s be clear here that in this article, I’m just summarizing what Tom says in his book. He’s done a bunch of research. He’s tried to put it all in simple terms. Some parts of his book are bound to be wrong. I expect that most of what he says is close to the truth.

The basic idea of the book is that if you want to be healthier, you can help yourself massively by eating right. By sleeping right. And by moving more—not just more exercise, but more ordinary physical activity.

It’s a short book, made up of many snippets that you can read quickly. There are thirty chapters, each with three things you can do to live your life better. To feel better. To be more productive. To enjoy life more.

If you read one chapter every day and make just a few changes each day, in a month, those can add up to a massive improvement in your life.

Here are a few of the snippets you’ll find in EAT MOVE SLEEP.

Sitting Is Lethal

A recent study showed that every hour of TV you watch reduces your life expectancy as much as smoking two cigarettes—22 minutes.

It’s not the TV that’s deadly, though. It’s the fact that almost everybody watches TVwhile sitting down. Inactivity kills you.

If you’re going to watch TV, do it while standing or exercising.I spend a lot of time in front of a computer and I had heard about the hazards of sitting awhile back, long before I got Tom’s book. A few months ago, I got an attachment to let me easily switch my desk to a standing desk.

So now I split my time at the desk between sitting and standing. I’m standing right now as I write this. When I’m sitting, I set a timer to remind me to get up and do a little exercise every half hour.

Tom recommends that for every twenty minutes of sitting, you get up and move around for two minutes. This helps keep your blood sugar at reasonable levels.

Coffee is Good for You

When I was a kid, I was taught that coffee is bad for you. Very bad. Horrible. All that caffeine, you know. So I’ve never drunk coffee in my life.

But Tom says that coffee isn’t bad for you—as long as it’s just plain coffee. Black coffee is a net gain for your health. What’s bad for you is the sugar and cream that most people add to make it drinkable.

So go ahead and drink coffee. But drink it black.

The same goes for tea. Drink it straight, without the sugar.

I haven’t started drinking coffee yet. But I might.

Not All Calories Are Created Equal

I’m not somebody who worries about calories, thanks to some lucky genes that keep me ridiculously slim. But I’ve always assumed that in the grand accounting scheme for weight gain or loss, calories were the final word.

But Tom says that this is wrong.

A calorie of refined carbs will fatten you up more than a calorie of protein or a calorie of vegetables or a calorie of nuts.

Refined carbs—bread, chips, rice, crackers, pasta—will spike your blood sugar and then get quickly converted into body fat. Refined carbs are cheap, convenient, and tasty. But they’ll put weight on you.

Fruits, nuts, vegetables, and protein are better for you if you’re playing the weight-loss game.

For various reasons, I don’t eat much of the worst kinds of refined carbs. But I do eat quite a lot of carbs, and apparently more than is good for me. So I’m taking steps to reduce them.

My working assumption is that readers of my e-zine are intelligent and can make their own decisions on health, diet, and fitness. It’s not my job to tell anyone how to live their life.

My job is to share information on how to be a better writer. Writing is a sedentary job, and that’s a hazard for all of us. I hear all the time from writer friends having physical problems because of their writing. So this is important stuff.

Some of you are already extremely well-informed on all this, and you don’t need Tom’s book to tell you what you already know.

But others of you may be looking for a source of information that gets to the point, keeps things simple, and makes recommendations you can understand. For you, EAT MOVE SLEEP might be just the ticket.

You can learn more about EAT MOVE SLEEP on the Amazon page.

Or you can check the Barnes & Noble page.

May you live a long, healthy, and productive life. And write lots of great fiction for the rest of us to enjoy.”


Bee Social: