Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Building Sets for Stories by Patty Blount

When I write, I think in terms of "scenes." When I shift the location or the point-of-view character, that's when I begin a new scene.

Scenes help me organize my stories, help me visualize them. I begin by orientating my readers. I write contemporary novels, so there's no magic happening, which requires authors to invent the physics of their worlds. So in a way, I've got it much easier than my paranormal and fantasy author colleagues. But in another way, I've got it harder because my worlds have to feel real.

That's an important concept -- feel real, not be real. And when the most popular piece of writing advice you get is "write what you know," that's tough to do unless you've been to a specific place. Let's be real (Ha!), first-hand research isn't always possible and when you're juggling a day job and family on top of writing, it's that much harder.

When I'm going for realism, I turn to Pinterest. I have boards for nearly all of my novels. There's a scene in SOME BOYS that takes place in one of the secondary characters' basement playrooms. I found a pin that depicted the basement I envisioned and "wrote to it." By this, I mean I kept that image on my screen while I conceived the scene. That helps me remember the details -- is the TV mounted on the wall or perched on a cabinet? Is the sectional sofa a left-hand or right-hand turn?

Seeing a space I'm going to use as a setting also helps me determine how my characters move within that space. Can my six-foot-tall hero cross that room in two paces or will it take him five?

Another technique I use is to try and find blog posts or Yelp reviews about the real places I find on Pinterest. This helps me add 'flavor.' But -- and this is a cautionary warning -- if I use a real place, I never show it in a negative way.

For example, three of my novels were based on my actual school district, but because they dealt with topics like bullying, school violence, sexual assault and victim-blaming, I fictionalized them because I didn't want the district believing I was casting dispersions. And because my local fire department never returned my calls when I was researching NOTHING LEFT TO BURN, I ended up basing my fictional Juniors program on that of three different fire departments.

In a still-unpublished story called THE SKY WAS SCARLET, the hero has just inherited his dad's '69 Pontiac GTO. It's a convertible. I couldn't find out online if the convertible ever had shoulder belts in that year. Shoulder belts were just coming out back then but in a convertible? I couldn't tell. I turned to Pinterest and found some car interior shots to use. Another thing that helped me is finding out how to raise and lower the top -- where was the switch located? Pinterest helped me answer these questions.

While not precisely world-building in the commonly understood sense, 'set design' for fiction is nevertheless an essential ingredient in the writing process. I hope this tip helps you design yours.

Monday, May 21, 2018


There’s a whole world inside each of our characters. I think that world is what often brings us to fiction in the first place. I think written work lets us, as readers, inside a character’s head in a way no other method of storytelling every really does. In movies or theater, we see a character navigating through a problem, but we often don’t hear directly from those characters. We get dialogue, sure, but we’re not inside their heads, and we’re not hearing their thoughts.

Not like we do in fiction, anyway. In fiction, we do get to hear characters’ thoughts. I think it’s why we so often feel so close to fictional characters, why flipping the last page feels like losing a friend.

I often think the best worldbuilding, then, is the worldbuilding that gives us the setting and surroundings through the eyes of a character. Each time it rains or a character meets someone new or goes to a new location, we get closer to that character if we can see all of the settings and weather and people through their eyes. That way, the outer world that surrounds the main character isn’t backdrop, it helps the reader understand who they are—their wants, fears, motivation. If we as readers know how a book’s main character views the others in his / her life, how they view social structures, how they view their own place in the world, we understand why they’re acting a certain way. In fact, we might even begin to empathize to such an extent that we root for them when they’re acting bizarrely or selfishly—because we so thoroughly understand where they’re coming from.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pretty In Pennsylvania [Laurie Boyle Crompton]

So far, all of my published novels have taken place in small towns: the first two in Pennsylvania, and the more recent two in upstate New York. Since I grew up in a quintessential small town; Butler, PA it could be (easily) argued that my story setting choices are inspired by pure laziness. And since my next book PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY boasts of it's small Pennsylvania town location RIGHT IN THE TITLE, and because Punxsutawney, PA is a mere stones-throw from Butler, PA one could (easily) argue that laziness is an ongoing trend in this author's life. And overall one would not be wrong. However, when it comes to world building, even with realistic fiction, actual geographical location is only one factor. Besides small towns, my books have also taken place inside minivans (aka: Blaze's Subatomic Sweatmobile of Doom) on reality show television sets (with Prom Queens battling it out for a grand prize tiara), on mountain tops (where Dyna chased her lust for Adrenaline), and everywhere from hidden cabins to carnivals to the world of street art with Rory, (as she wielded cans of spray paint like weapons) Each of those worlds required plenty of research, including everything from learning comic book jargon to watching hours upon hours of reality television, to studying graffiti artist techniques and all culminating in a family rock-climbing expedition which instigated a fresh fear of heights in my poor sweet daughter (my son LOVED it of course). And now PRETTY IN PUNXSUTAWNEY brings me back to my small Pennsylvania town roots as Andie gets caught in a Groundhog Day loop, reliving her first day at Punxsutawney High over and over. And as we all know, HIGH SCHOOL is a never-ending world all its own. Hope you'll join her there in January 2019! And just to entice you, here's the ah-mazing cover with an iconic locker shot and that small Pennsylvania town right there in the title:

Friday, May 18, 2018

Did your toy cars have personalities? (Alissa Grosso)

In some ways my childhood was the sort that every kid dreams about, well, in one very specific way. My father worked for a toy company. Through about first grade or so, save for a brief time period when he worked for Goody (forever known in our family as the Christmas of the barrettes) my father worked for Lesney Products which manufactured Matchbox Cars, Ginny Dolls and a few other smaller lines that never really took off.

What this meant is that I had a lot of Matchbox Cars growing up as well as pretty much every Matchbox Car accessory that there ever was: the car wash, the parking garage, the Sounds of Service auto repair facility, a variety of racetracks and something called Play Track.

Play Track consisted a bunch of different pieces that could be connected and arranged in a variety of ways, and thanks to my dad's job, I had enough pieces to make some pretty elaborate setups.

One thing that I struggle with nowadays, is how gendered toys have become. Growing up in the late 70s and early 80s I do not remember the gender division that exists in the toy aisles of stores today. Maybe part of it was that there wasn't much in the way of girl colors and boy colors back then. Pretty much everything was primary colors in those days, but there didn't seem to be much of a stigma about girls playing with cars, and I definitely knew plenty of boys who had Cabbage Patch Kids. I'm not even going to get into My Little Ponies which first appeared around this time and whose cross-gender appeal is so legendary that their male fandom even has their own nickname because this is a post about one little girl who spent hours playing with her toy cars.

Okay, but what does this have to do with worldbuiling you ask? In a very literal sense I would regularly build worlds for my toy cars by setting up the massive amount of Play Track pieces we had to form townscapes that would likely horrify most traffic engineers.

Then I would people these towns with cars. Even as a young child I understood that cars were inanimate machines driven by human beings, but other than me, the master creator, no humans ever figured into my car play because in this world the cars were the people.

I found some Matchbox cars while roaming through a Toys R Us store recently.

My cars all had personalities. Some were mean. Some were nice. Some were old and cranky. Some were young show-offs. I know I said before that toys in this era did not seem gendered in general, but on a more specific level all my cars had genders. Because, of course they did. This was decades before the Cars movies, and yes I do feel a slight pang of regret when I realize I should have written that movie and become fabulously wealthy.

But what that movie franchise proves to me, is that I couldn't possibly be the only one whose toy cars had personalities. I suspect there were quite a few of us out there, and I suspect that more than one of us went on to become a writer or to enter some other creative profession. Because sitting down and writing a book is a lot like getting out that big Play Track box.

When you sit down to write a new book, you are creating your world. It might not be as easy as snapping together plastic pieces, but it can be just as fun to plot out a story and create the realistic or fantastic universe it takes place in. Then the playing really begins when you add the characters whether they are human, beast or vehicle--seeing how they interact with this world you've created for them and with the other characters around them can provide for endless fun.

It's been a while since I've played with cars though I still have my Matchbox Cars collection somewhere in my attic. These days I've moved on to creating worlds out of words, and I am happy to report that it's just as fun. So, my advice to you is to take joy in playing with your words and creating the worlds of your books. It really is a lot of fun.

Alissa Grosso's word-play has led to the creation of the the novels Unnamed Roads, Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. Find out more about her books and how you can get a free one at alissagrosso.com.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words (Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about world building. Many don’t realize this, but in picture books, illustrators don’t just draw pictures to “go along with” the words. Rather, they tell the other half of the story. Yes, you read that right: 50%!

Of course, while my illustrators have told me that my words have inspired their “vision”, I’d venture to say that they’ve taken my original idea to heights I’d never even imagined and have placed the story and characters in the most magnificent settings!

I suppose that’s why they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. But what happens when one is writing a novel and hasn’t the luxury of pictures? Then we must become artists with our word choices. Think about your favorite novels for a moment. Doesn’t the author paint those pictures in your head, where the story rolls out like an award-winning movie?

First of all, when writing a story, one must decide the “setting” (or world.) Most people realize setting is a place, but what they don’t often think about is that it’s also about time. Does your story happen in modern day, historical or futuristic times? What about seasons? Is your scene taking place in the morning or at midnight?

Remember that we want to invite our readers into this world, so we have to ensure they’re on firm footing. If it’s a contemporary work, we are dealing with rules most are familiar with. But if we’re describing something different, whether it be outer space, inner space, or an entire new dimension, it’s important to provide not only the physical entity and time period, but the “rules of the house” as well.

The thing about world building is that it doesn’t have to be real, but it does have to be believable.

Once this is determined, one can start adding color, texture and depth to the palette. It’s all about detail and layering.

Have you heard the saying, “Show, don’t tell”? We can write (tell) that a character is scared, but if we show him/her that our character’s hands are shaking and he’s holding his breath, our readers begin to feel the fear as well. The same idea may be applied to world building.

Ultimately, we must be artists with our words. There’s a quote I love that sums it up perfectly:

For example, instead of telling readers, “It was windy.”

We can say:

“The scent of lilacs ticked his nose as the wind whispered secrets into his ears.”

It’s the difference between plain “blue” water...

and “an ocean of shimmering turquoise and aquamarine.”

Where would you rather swim? What world would you rather immerse yourself in?

Words matter.

Friday, May 11, 2018

World Building in Historical Fiction - Maryanne Fantalis

This month, we're talking about world building, which is just another way of asking, how do we writers make the reader feel immersed in the world of the story?

As a writer of historical fiction, this is a particularly important question.

Not only do you have to introduce your reader to the characters, the stakes, the plot -- in short, all of the things you always have to do as an author -- you have to bring the reader into a world that they may have no familiarity with at all. Zero. None.

Everything from clothing to food to transportation to going to the bathroom is probably different in your historical world.

Here's an example.

This morning, when I got ready to go out, I took a shower. I put on a bra and underwear, socks, jeans, a tee shirt, and sneakers.

You understood every one of those words, right? I didn't have to explain any of that. Our common experience in the modern world gives us a shorthand.

Now let's think about the world of late medieval England in which I set my stories. When my character wakes up in the morning, what would she do to get ready for the day?

You have no idea, do you?

I mean, when she woke up, what was her bed even like? Did you ever think about that?

I have to explain it to you, but in such a way that doesn't bore you to death, that doesn't sound like I'm just showing off how much freaking research I had to do to write this freaking book, and also in a way that doesn't sound strange and stilted from my character's perspective.

Because, honestly, what if I had written this above?

This morning, when I got ready to go out, I stepped into the large tile- and glass-enclosed box in the bathing cubicle attached to my bedchamber and turned the knobs on the wall. A rapid gush of water descended from the round spray nozzle high on the wall, gradually becoming warm to the touch. Relishing the spray dancing on my skin, I lathered myself with a palm-sized bar of a scented fat-and-lye mixture, quickly washing away the sweat and dirt of the previous day and night, as was customary in my culture.

Weird, right? Who describes their daily hygiene like this? I'll bet you've read sci-fi that sounded like that and you skimmed over it. Because -- ewwww.

So when you're talking about an unfamiliar place and time, you have to balance the weird with the necessary.

For example, when Kathryn, the main character in FINDING KATE, went outside of the house, she put on a pair of wooden overshoes called pattens to protect her delicate indoor shoes, made of silk or kidskin. She had to mention that. It's part of her world (as is the fact that her streets are mostly rutted dirt, and only paved in the rich part of town, which is literally half a street).

These beautiful pattens were hand-made by an SCA member named Lady Ursula von Memmingen.
You can see the research and design here:

So, although in a modern context, I could say I put on my sneakers but I didn't have to describe them to you, my main character couldn't quite do that. I had to describe her footwear, but subtly.

I did it by giving out little hints, not all at once.

In an early description, another character gives her a once-over, not kindly, and she feels his creepy gaze crawl "from the modest lace veil over my hair to the wooden pattens covering my silk slippers." She is dressed as an entirely respectable young lady going to church, but the things he's saying about her are very much at odds with the way she looks and acts -- very unfair to poor Kathryn! Anyway, the point is, there are the pattens, slipped on over her indoor silk slippers. So you can tell, very early in the book, that she's rich enough to wear silk, and that when she goes out of the house, she's not letting that silk touch the ground. 

Every time she leaves the house, she makes a point of slipping into those outdoor shoes, so the reader understands that this is habit for her. It's how she lives.

The hardest part of worldbuilding, for me, as a historical author, is not so much finding the answers. The research is the fun part (#procrastinating). It's finding ways to bring readers into the world without making it mind-numbingly boring for them. There's nothing worse than a novel that grinds to a halt so that the author can info-dump all the cool things they learned about the historical period. You know what I'm talking about. Two straight pages of a feast, amiright?

What are your favorite ways to work historical details into your writing? What struggles do you have? How do you keep the facts from weighing down the story?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Research & World Building by Sydney Salter

Research is my absolute favorite part of writing - I actually set a Stop Researching deadline when I start a new manuscript, otherwise I'd keep diving into learning more and more. I don't call my research world building, but that's what I'm figuring out: who is this story about and where does this story take place?

I've built worlds in the future, past, and present, and each provides unique challenges surrounding accuracy, inventiveness, and believability.

But the thing that's stuck me recently is how all of us born before 1995 need to learn about modern teens - things have dramatically changed with the invention of the smart phone. We can no longer solely rely on our own experiences to craft our characters.

I highly recommend these three books about how technology has altered the way teenagers think and interact with each other and the world.

Monday, May 7, 2018

It's More Than A Place: Creating Settings (and Building Worlds) That Matter (Joy Preble)

We're talking about world building this month and so it's a good time to talk about setting, which is one of my favorite craft bits to teach, especially to newbie writers. As the title of the post state, setting is more than place. Setting is the when and where, but it's also the social norms and mores, the psychology of a place, the exact historical moment, the language, the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touches. It's the climate, the geography and pretty much everything else. Basically, setting provides the social, intellectual and emotional context for your story. It both affects the characters and is a reflection upon them.

My SWEET DEAD LIFE series is set in Texas, specifically in the northern suburbs of Houston. If you have never been this is a world of enormous high school football stadiums mega churches, Olive Garden and other chain restaurants, strip malls and an endless landscape of suburban sameness , matching trash cans and mall culture, and an often aggressive artificial nature, such as suburbs with  town centers designed to look like they've been there for decades when actually they were built last year. 
(No offense to the suburbs. I live in one. But I'm also conscious of the weirdness of the whole thing)

Setting SDL in this specific place meant that I could use the setting in interesting and hopefully clever ways in this book about a very unlikely guardian angel, a global mystery, and a 14 year old feisty girl narrator who wants her life to calm the heck the down but isn’t likely to get that any time soon.

Setting SDL here meant I could juxtapose a world that often seems to believe it has a clear expectation about good and evil about life and death and the afterlife—this world of those mega churches and 4thof July parades where the local Democratic party frequently gets booed by families in camp chairs on the side of the road, of elaborate Christmas decorations and prayers before football games and letters to the editor in the local papers that rail against godless public schools with a real life angel who still likes to smoke a bit too much weed, lives with his sister, and mentally unstable mother in a run down tract home and possibly is performing miracles right before their eyes even though he is in their estimation, the last person they’d expect to do so. It allows me to explore my fascination with those who are chronically underestimated by placing them against this specific setting and through the specific prism of narrator Jenna Samuels, who is a product of her world at the same time as she wants desperately to leave it.

For example, just before their crappy Prius crashes – an accident brought on by Casey rushing ailing Jenna to the hospital in a car already ruined by Casey’s stoner pal Dave, and one that will result not in the death of dying Jenna but of her older brother Casey—Jenna observes: “Casey says we made it to our exit. Apparently we were racing along the feeder road to the hospital about a mile down. (Just to paint the full picture: we passed Woodhaven Cemetery, Houston North Rehab, and a strip center that housed a spinal surgery facility with a prosthesis clinic attached, a Vietnamese noodle house, Café Monterrey Mexican restaurant, and Stacy Carrigan Legal. In the Texas suburbs we like to cover all bases. If the ER or the rehab couldn’t fix you, at least they didn’t have to cart you far. After that, your loved ones could get a bite to eat and chat about who they could sue.)”

And since the novel is set in December, there is also this, with their neighbors the Gilroys once Jenna realizes that Casey actually died in the accident and has come back as her guardian angel, a task he knows shockingly little about, an opportunity to juxtapose a real angel against the Gilroy’s holiday décor, as seen through Jenna’s jaded eyes:

“The Gilroys were hanging up their Christmas lights when we locked up the house and climbed into the Merc. Mr. Gilroy, dressed in Dickies overalls and a tan Henley shirt, was perched on a ladder, screwing in bulbs. I saw that they hadd already decorated their yard with a manger scene and two lit-up full-sized angels. Maybe once they got them plugged in, Casey could go stand in the middle.
         Mrs. Gilroy hot-footed it across the strip of grass between our houses, a tangled extension cord clutched in her hands. ‘That looks like Nell Pittman’s car,’ she observed. She wore black velour pants and a button-down red Christmas sweater with Santa heads all over it. A white pom-pom sat at the top of each Santa hat.”

So Jenna, with a real angel at her side, observes this world where she lives, a world where ugly Christmas sweaters are NOT worn ironically.

Thus again, it’s not just about being accurate and descriptive. It’s about seeing the world through the character’s POV, through how this particular girl sees Houston and her life.

Likewise, in my YA contemporary FINDING PARIS, the aggressively artificial Vegas setting allows me to hint at the terrible things that are hiding under Leo Hollings’ life by showing rather than just telling. In this spare, contemporary novel, every bit of setting becomes crucial and admittedly requires readers to move past the stereotypical vision of Vegas as glittery fun.

So Leo tells us, “East of the Strip, a group of girls in short, brightly colored dresses wrapping their skinny bodies like bandages pose in front of the Hard Rock Hotel was we cross Paradise, a naked blow-up man doll hoisted over their heads.”

There’s a lot going on in that sentence if you choose to see it, including a reference to east of Paradise.

Not long after, there’s this:
“Elvis is guarding the Heartbreak Hotel Diner as we chug up. He’s the older, chunkier, gold lame Elvis—all those fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches and probably the drugs having taken their toll. If you’re going to build a twenty-four-hour diner three miles off the Vega Strip, in between a Rite Aid Pharmacy and a massage parlor, you’d think you would go for a young Elvis.”

Leo’s observations about the seedier side of Vegas, about the dreams not quite come true, give us –hopefully- some clues and insights into her and the secrets she is holding and the hopes and dreams that she feels she may never get. The way she sees the world serves as a prism to the way she sees herself.

World building therefore means I better be very clear on where my characters exist, how they fit in this setting, and what my writerly intentions are for both!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Location, Location, Location (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is all about YA worldbuilding.

When people talk about worldbuilding in fiction, I usually think fantasy or science fiction or maybe a different time period, but, really, it applies to all fiction.

So far, my novels have all been set in Minnesota (where I live) or on the St. Croix River, which divides Minnesota and Wisconsin (where my in-laws have a summer house).  Places I know.  Streets I know.  In the case of two of my novels, a summer house I know quite well.

So where’s the worldbuilding?

My Bennet Sisters YA series is set in Woodbury, Minnesota, because I wanted a city in Minnesota that sounds like Jane Austen.  Highbury is Emma and not Pride and Prejudice, but close enough.  I’m not often in Woodbury, but it’s right off Highway 94, which I’ve driven a million times between Minneapolis and Wisconsin, it’s close to my in-laws’ summer house, and the Valley Creek Mall has a couple of good bookstores.  Oh, and there’s a Five Guys nearby.  (Research trip!)  Thanks to my books, Valley Creek Mall also now has an imaginary pizza joint: Russo’s.  Why?  Whenever Bad Stuff (loosely defined) happens in my books, I make up a place rather than annoy a real place.  That’s probably why hospitals in fiction tend to be invented by the author.

Even in my fictional worlds, though, I try to keep it as real as possible.  Readers (including me) want to feel like they’ve been wherever the characters are going.  That’s why my five teenage girls in the Bennet Sisters novels roam the Mall of America, not some huge fictional mall that happens to be in Bloomington, Minnesota.  They hang out at the DQ in Valley Creek Mall.  Jane takes a trip to New York City and goes shopping at Bloomingdale’s.  When Cat goes for a joyride to Wisconsin Dells, the reader is right there as she makes a detour at Menards in Hudson, Wisconsin, and drives past Eau Claire and Black River Falls on her way to the Dells.

But sometimes I can’t keep it real.

If a YA book is set in a high school, and bad things happen in that high school, I have to make it up.  My most recent YA manuscript dealt with issues like shaming and bullying.  I definitely had to invent the school where that takes place.  When I had that school play another Minneapolis high school in football, though, I named an actual school.  The closer I stay to reality, the better.

Sometimes it’s more difficult.  I’m currently working on a YA series about a high school for psychics.  I had to invent a high school (of course), but I placed it close to Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis, both for a readers’ reference point and because I love Minnehaha Falls.  On occasion, the characters go on unsanctioned adventures, ending up at real places like Fort Snelling or Lake Calhoun or Sea Salt, the restaurant at Minnehaha Falls.  But mostly they’re in class, and they’re divided by groups á la Harry Potter, where their personality fits the personality of the group.  The worldbuilding was intense as I began writing the first book in the series.  I had to figure out the groups and individual characters, both students and teachers, in a world where everyone is psychic and has different psychic skills, insecurities, and quirks.  It’s not so much that I’m building a world; it’s more that I’m building the characters inside that world.

In fact, in all of my books, that’s the most important part of worldbuilding: figuring out the characters.  So, really, the title of this blog should’ve instead been Character, Character, Character.

Too late now!

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Brief Primer to World Building

By Fae Rowen

Bear with me as I share a short set-up I wrote earlier this week:

I looked out my window this morning, as I always do while drinking my usual protein shake.
In the heavier than usual wind, the prayer flags flapped loudly. 
Through the narrow gaps of brightly-colored material I see a profusion of blooming tropical flowers. 
Behind them, a mermaid sits on her rock. Surrounded by water. Unconcerned by the wind. Blowing through her conch shell. 

Beyond her, an angel stands, arms wide, watching the tiny decedents of millenia-dead dinosaurs perform their morning sun salutations, ignoring the war machines whirring overhead.

Here are the other pictures, from outside my kitchen window, that I took before writing that introduction. The important thing to remember is that I shared the setting from my own POV which, being a science fiction writer, can be rather skewed at times. Just ask my friends.

Yes, I write speculative fiction, also known as science fiction. My friends who write in other genres used to tell me, "I could never write science fiction. You have to do all that world building." Guess what? All writers have to world build for their stories. Even writers of contemporary fiction.

Think about it for a moment. If you're writing contemporary YA romance, you probably set some scenes in school and in at least one of your character's homes. You have to world build to convey the sense of those settings and what's important to your characters in the settings. 

It's important to do your world building through your characters' POVs, otherwise it could seem like a giant info dump. And beware of "author intrusion." That's when you share too much information because, as an author, you have an agenda about what you want the reader to know. Unfortunately, your characters don't share your agenda, and your readers will see through your attempt to force feed them every time. If you know about deep POV, this is the perfect place to use the technique.

Here are the basics of what authors need to give develop when they're world building:

  1. Physical settings
  2. Social rules
  3. Politics
  4. Religion/Belief system
No author shares everything they know about the world—whether it's historical, contemporary, or future—anymore than a writer would share every bit of research they've done for a book. Choose the details that are necessary to tease out the most important of your character's traits. Or the setting. Or the social fabric. Or anything else that's a critical part of the set-up of your story. 

And don't forget that you don't just world build in the first three chapters. Further into your story, you'll be able to add new details that make sense and are necessary to either the plot, character, or romance arcs. Well done, these "reveals" (sometimes known as "Easter eggs") can surprise and satisfy the reader in ways that make them your reader for life.

Since it's the beginning of the month, I don't want to overwhelm you with an info dump and steal everyone else's thunder. Here are a couple of links to other articles I've written about world building when you're ready to delve into the subject more:

World Building Techniques, with excerpts from my winter release, Keeping Athena, this post contains two links to specific articles about World Building techniques.

Do you have questions for Fae about a world building issue you're dealing with in your WIP? Want to share one of your world building tips? That's what the comments are for.


Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, and love.
When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A Whole New World - by Janet Raye Stevens

"One of my challenges [as a writer] is to make sure that I'm giving the reader details that the character cares abut rather than details that I care about. I'd say that's the key to world-building."    -Jess Anderson 
Well, that’s the end of my post this month—Jess Anderson said it all for me and in far fewer words than I would use.
See you in June!
Ha, okay, guess I’ll stick around a bit longer to elaborate on this month’s theme: world-building. Every author world-builds in their own way, as you will discover reading what each of us posts on YAOTL this month. And there is no right way, as long as the author creates a world readers connect to, care about, and believe in.
When I start a project, I begin with an idea, a setting, an inciting incident (and sometimes a wow finish), and of course, the characters. Vague, I know. Even vaguer when I tell you I’m a committed “pantser,” with no idea where I’m going to end up when I sit down to write. This confession probably just gave every plotter reading this the vapors, but that’s the way I roll.  
So, here I am, sitting at my computer (a big, ol’ old fashioned desktop, mind you!), building my world. The setting comes to life as my characters take shape and the plot unfolds from my fingertips. This is where pantsing gets tricky, because—research.
Whether you’re writing an action-adventure set in a sci-fi universe or a contemporary story about high school friends falling in love, you’ve got to know stuff about where you are. People, places, things, slang, customs, laws, mores, clothing, no clothing, money, castes, foods and on and on need to be looked into.
Whether you start off with your research at the beginning of a project, like a plotter, or, if you’re a pantser like me and end up with piles of files, a slew of sticky notes, and twenty seven 8x10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each when you’ve completed your manuscript, that research is key to finding those details that will, hopefully, make the reader care about your world and characters.
Something's fishy here!
Our friend Google is a great starting point for any kind of world you’re creating, even for a Sci-Fi. Google is the quickest and easiest way to dig up strange plants and flowers, names for moons and planets, odd and unusual animals or fish (have you seen the amazing creatures that swim in our oceans?). It’s also great for finding names and thingamabobs other authors have used in their works, so you can avoid repetition and ensure your six-legged camel-like creature with the snaggle tooth is unique.
Museums and libraries are great places to find details for your world. For example, museum paintings and other artwork can give you a glimpse into Renaissance fashion and customs, libraries will give it context with scholarly works you can access for free. Local libraries are a treasure trove of town reports, street directories, and newspaper clippings that may seem mundane, but provide insight into daily life of another era. Plus, libraries (and local history museums) sometimes have odd and wonderful artifacts you can see up close and personal.  
Who knew you could find a wreath of human hair at the library?
And don’t forget primary sources. My stepfather was a collector of all things important and trivial, ranging from the hoops his great-grandmother wore under her skirts in the 1870s to every issue of Mac World Magazine ever printed. He also kept a bunch of newspapers from the 1940s, his WWII Signal Corps uniforms, and Chinese money from when he was posted there. I write mystery set in WWII, so you can imagine how valuable it is to be able to see and touch these materials.

May 1945, and jobs for women were plentiful
Which brings me to another and most valuable primary source—people. If your protagonist is a kid whose dad/mom is a cop, talk to a cop, see how he/she moves and speaks and how they relate to their own kids.
I talked to my stepfather a lot about his war experiences, and will never forget his story of being put up in a hotel in Miami during basic training and how, each morning, a truck would back up to the patio door and fresh oranges would spill off. He could still remember the smell. I haven’t used it yet in a story, but will someday.  
Well, I’ve sort of run on, so I’ll close with this final bit of world-building advice:
"I'm not going to tell you how to start a bug-powered vehicle, I'm just going to put you inside one with somebody who knows how, and send you off on a ride." - Kameron Hurley
That means, use what you learn wisely, but sparingly. Don’t overwhelm your reader with facts and figures and dates and details, or they’ll check out. Give them the details they care about, that engages them, and makes them eager to strap in for that ride to a whole new world!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Rejection and The Big Leagues

I'm feeling a bit under the weather, so this will be a short post (I think. Although once I start typing there's never a guarantee of when I'll shut up.)
I once saw a writer on one of my writing organization loops post about rejection. She came to lament that she had received a rejection on a partial and was so devastated she had cried all day. "I got very little feedback. What am I supposed to do next?" she asked. She went on and on and on about how hard she had worked on that manuscript (for six months), how close she had felt, and how much the rejection stung. She admitted it was her first rejection.
If I could've reached through my computer and shook her, I would have. Rejection is the name of the game, Sunshine! I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs. It happens to writers, published authors, multi-published authors, and agents every other minute in publishing.
What do you do next? You send out more queries, you brush it off, and keep going! One rejection and this writer was ready to throw in the towel! I couldn't believe how naive she was being. I wanted to tell her that not only will you have to send out more queries, and face dozens and dozens of rejections, but most likely you'll have to write something else.
Look, the harsh reality is that expecting your first manuscript to land you an agent or editor is like every baseball player expecting his first hit in the major leagues to be a homerun. Does that happen every once in a while? Of course it does. But not very often.
When I was querying, the rejections piled up like dirt, until I was staring at an enormous hill. To make things worse, most of them were of the close-but-no-cigar variety with lots of feedback. Many were also R&Rs - revise and resubmits. I rewrote my first novel so many times I can now read it to you line by line without glancing at the book.
But when I was facing that mounting pile of rejections, one of my published author friends gave me the best piece of publishing advice I've ever gotten. She said to write something else. And that's what I did, and it landed me my first agent.
I think most writers, unlike this very naive one I mention,  know that you have to send multiple queries out to many, many agents. But I wonder sometimes if new writers know that it may take many, many manuscripts before you make it in the big leagues. Yes, that first one may hit it out of the park, but it may take many, many swings before you're a batting legend. If you accept this going in, you'll be a lot better off. And much more likely to keep your sanity.
I wish the best of luck to any writer who is in the query trenches at this moment. Believe in yourself, but be willing to work hard, improve your craft, and write multiple manuscripts...until you're so good they can't afford to reject you.

Marlo Berliner is the award-winning author of THE GHOST CHRONICLES, her debut book which was released in November 2015 to critical acclaim. The book won the 2016 NJRW Golden Leaf Award for Best First Book, was named FINALIST in the National Indie Excellence Awards for Young Adult Fiction, received the Literary Classics Seal of Approval, was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion, and was named one of the “best indie YA books we have seen in the past year, from both self-publishers and small presses” by IPPY Magazine. Marlo is represented by Eric Ruben of the Ruben Agency and she writes young adult, women’s fiction, and short stories. Her second book, THE GHOST CHRONICLES 2, was released in October 2017. 

When she's not writing or editing, Marlo loves reading, relaxing at the beach, watching movies, and rooting for the Penn State Nittany Lions. After having spent some wonderful time in Pittsburgh and Houston, she’s now back in her home state of New Jersey where she resides with her husband, two sons, and a rambunctious puppy named Max. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The 'Nice' Rejection (Brian Katcher)

LISTER: Why didn't I ask her out? What's the worst she could've said?
RIMMER: She could've said, "No, you're a filthy, stinking, loathsome, disgusting object I wouldn't be seen dead with in a plague pit."

--Red Dwarf

When I was in 7th grade I asked a girl to a dance. She said no. I was so unimpressed with the situation that I didn't bother to ask out anyone else for two more years.

The thing about rejection is, you know it's going to happen. It's an inevitable part of life and dating. And when I could tell a woman was so utterly underwhelmed by me, when she was kind of insulted that I'd assumed I was in her league, well, didn't bother me much.

But it was the almosts that did me in. When I could tell she was considering, but ultimately realized she could do better. Or just wasn't dating at the time. Or had to go to California to film The Hunger Games. The idea that I'd been close was kind of harder to take than knowing I never stood a chance.

I've find that this applies to writing as well. Like all writers, I've had my fair share of rejections. Most were of the form letter variety, where it was passed over after some sub-editor glanced at two pages. Happens to everyone.

But then there are the close calls. Now that I have an agent, I'm having a lot more publishers read my manuscripts. And while I still get curt 'nos', I'm getting a lot more 'almost yeses.'

I really appreciated the chance to see this one. It’s the sort of story and premise that’s exactly what I’m looking for—funny, a diverse cast that felt authentic, and a fresh take on familiar story elements. Brian has a fearlessness to his writing too—a willingness to GO THERE and the sensitivity to pull it off—that I very much look for.

Brian’s writing is so engaging, and I found G to be such a charming and accessible character. 


Funny and poignant and honest, in all the best ways. You are totally right that this is the kind of quirky voice I’m drawn to in contemporary YA.  


I know I should be happy that these incredible editors are so being so flattering...but damn, it's hard to think how close I was.

Oh well. It'll happen. Or not. That's part of life as well. I've got a zillion other ideas, and I will not stop until I force each and every one of them down your collective throats.

And a big fat raspberries to Nancy from 7th grade.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Rejection Tips (on My Decade Birthday) by Dean Gloster

            I write fiction.
            “I thrive on rejection” is an example.
            No one likes rejection. But with writing, like many ventures, when you cast off your canoe of dreams into the rough waters of the commercial world, your only certain companions are rejection and its cousins—unruly criticism and surly indifference. (“Meh.”) Not everyone will love your work. And not all of your work will be entirely lovable.
            I’m now working on two somewhat weird novels. And today, coincidentally, is my birthday, one of those alarming speed limit change-of-decade numbers.

(It might be an even bigger number than the one on this sign.)
            So I’m acutely aware that I don’t have forever to get my stories out into the world. And that when I finish either of those stories, I face the prospect of rejection.
            Which is hard. As someone said, writing a novel is like telling a joke and then waiting two years to find out if it’s funny. Writing is a long unpaid internship, and each novel not under contract is something of a lottery ticket.
            So here is my advice on rejection. It’s couched in terms of what we writers face, but you might find it echo in other places you seek acceptance, achievement, or connection. You know—rejection's hunting grounds.
            First, don’t send your work out too soon. You should make it as good as you can before you hit send, and that includes workshopping it with critique partners, writing classmates, beta readers, and your writers’ group. If you don’t belong to that kind of network, take writing classes and join organizations to find other writers. Maggie Stiefvater even has a Google group to match up critique partners.

            Second, keep getting better as a writer. Rejection isn’t failure. It’s part of the process of getting to acceptance, and your job is to put in the work: That means reading other writers, studying the craft, and—you know—actually writing. It also means listening to feedback. 
            Third, rejection is often temporary. There are more ways than ever for authors to find an audience. As Ray Bradbury said, “You only fail if you stop writing.” You can learn a lot more from setbacks than from success, but the tuition is high, and it’s often paid in rejection.

            There is an element of chance and lucky timing about publishing that you can’t control. But you do have control about some things: Whether you put in the work and whether you keep getting better. Make it hard for them to reject you.
            Some books find an audience, as difficult as that is.
            Some writers find a career.
            And some of us find stories that sing to us, demanding to be told.
            That, friends, is magic. Even more amazing, sometimes that magic—combined with persistence and putting in the work over time—can pay the rent.
            Which is powerful magic indeed.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Merit Press/Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Friday, April 27, 2018

No, but ... (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

I have a file called “The ‘Good’ Rejections.”

It was especially helpful to me before I’d had a lot of acceptances. It helped keep me going. It told me that even if I hadn’t reached the end zone, I’d gotten close.

Agents and editors are busy. They see a lot of pitches, a lot of manuscripts. Most of those submissions get turned down with no answer or a form answer. But when editors see something they want to encourage, they take the time to go beyond the form letter and jot an extra note. Such as:

“Thanks—try again?”
“Keep us in mind for future work.”
“We would be glad to see more of your work.”
“I hope you try us again.”
“Came very close.”
"Made the final round."
“Some very strong writing here.”

Yes, sometimes it’s even more frustrating to get this close and still not make it. But mostly, it’s gratifying to know that we’re on the right track, at least. We’re not kidding ourselves—there is something here; it’s just a question of its finding the right home.

When I was feeling especially discouraged, I would leaf through this folder, and the collection of so many different editors responding to so many different stories would reassure me that I did have potential, that more than one person saw it.

There are no guarantees. One literary magazine sent me many encouraging notes in response to many short stories, but ultimately never accepted anything. One of my short stories garnered praise almost everywhere I sent it, but never cleared that final hurdle. On the other hand, several journals that turned me down at least once said yes on other occasions. One story of mine got published more than ten years after I’d written it. Sometimes it takes a while to find a story’s “home.”

Rejection isn’t always a “no.” Sometimes it’s, “No, but ...” or, “Not yet.”

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Rejection Reads (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

In a fun case of serendipity, I've heard a lot about rejection this month.

I say fun, because it's not been me getting rejected (though I think I actually got 1 rejection this month and 1 acceptance, both for shorter pieces, not novels, which I will say is a pretty good month) but me encountering really good pieces on rejection.

I thought I would share them here.

At Lithub, travel writer Thomas Swick discusses the long road to publication of a memoir of his time in Poland in the early 1980s in "After Dozens of Rejections, It Only Takes One Acceptance To Make AWriter."

A taste:
"The Poles have a phrase for this phenomenon: pisać do szuflady (to write for the drawer). In Poland the contributing factors were more political than qualitative, while here they’re more financial. “What is the difference between capitalism and communism?” began an old Soviet-era joke, sometimes attributed to John Kenneth Galbraith. “The former is the exploitation of man by man while the latter is the opposite.” I was coming up with a new explanation: Communism bans books for their ideas while capitalism bans them for their (perceived) inability to make money. A situation that turns unpublished writers in the first system into dissidents and heroes and those in the second into poor schmucks."

In "The Rejection Audit: What If Your WritingRejections Are Actually Good News?" book coach Jennie Nash writes about the different types of rejections and how to learn from and move forward from them.

A taste:

"Publishing is a complex, massively big and multi-layered business universe. There is no “they.” There are just people who love books and make a living selling them who are constantly on the lookout for projects they think can attract readers.

Your job as a writer is to write what you are called to write, to master your craft, to understand what readers want, and to learn the rules of the game of how to reach those readers. Part of this work is taking a cold hard look at your rejections."

Have you read any great pieces or books on the fine art of rejection? Share them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Worst Kind of Rejection -- Jen Doktorski

So, in preparation for writing this post, I was wandering around the house, half muttering to myself, What can I say about rejection? when my kid hears me pipes up, “You have a lot of experience with that, don’t you?”
Why yes, I do. Thank you for the reminder.
Rejection is part of life. For writers, actors, dancers, singers, artists of any kind really, rejection is part of the job.
After more than a decade of writing books and pursuing my dream of publishing, I’ve had experiences similar to those already discussed here by my fellow YAOTL authors this month. I’ve got a collection of emails and letters from agents and editors who rejected my work. But after initially knocking me down, those rejections ultimately propelled me forward. I grew more determined to find an agent, get a book deal, and publish my first book.
To me, there is a far worse brand of rejection in the publishing business.
When an agent or editor rejects your manuscript, they let you know privately, in an email or letter, without taking to social media to let the world know exactly how much they hated your craptastic book. It’s easier to accept that one editor or agent simply didn’t connect with your work on a particular day. That she or he made a subjective decision based on their tastes, needs, and perhaps caffeine consumption, and decided to pass on your book.
There are lots of gatekeepers to get by in order to have a book traditionally published, and perhaps that lulls you into a false sense of security. This must be good, you think. My critique group liked it, my agent liked it, my editor liked it, an editorial board liked it, the marketing team liked it, my parents liked it. What’s not to like?
Nothing quite prepares you for the scores of reviewers—both amateur and professional—poised at their keyboards ready to answer that silly rhetorical question.
So what? you might say. A review is still only one person’s opinion. Yes, but unlike the agent or editor who rejected your work quietly, the reviewer is not only telling the world they didn’t like your book, they’re trying to persuade others to reject it without ever reading it. “Don’t buy this one!” they may as well be saying when they call your book “Country hokum.” (True story.)
It’s difficult to see years of your life and pieces of your heart summed up in a few cruel words that some reviewer decided passed as clever. It’s discouraging to recognize that some reviews impact your sales.
I have a new YA novel coming out next week. Like many authors, I put everything I had into this book and I should be celebrating its release. But right now, my eyes are covered with my hands and I’m peeking at the world through the thin spaces between my fingers, afraid to read what people said about what I wrote.
Here are the details about my book in case you’re interested. On May 1st you’ll be able to buy it wherever books are sold.

One last summer to escape, to find herself, to figure out what comes next.
Graduation was supposed to be a relief. Except Quinn can't avoid the rumors that plagued her throughout high school or the barrage of well-intentioned questions about her college plans. How is she supposed to know what she wants to do for the next four years, let alone the rest of her life? And why does no one understand that it's hard for her to think about the future―or feel as if she even deserves one―when her best friend is dead?
Spending the summer with her aunt at the Jersey shore may just be the fresh start Quinn so desperately needs. And when she meets Malcolm, a musician with his own haunted past, she starts to believe in second chances. Can Quinn find love while finding herself?