Friday, May 27, 2011

World-Building, Part 4: Climate, Seasons, Etc.

Climate plays a big part in world-building. Things like weather, seasons, day/night can also shape your world or individual scenes. Your characters are going to be feeling and experiencing and seeing different things depending on all of this. If it's a sweltering summer, what you write is going to be very different than if it's an icy winter. What your characters might see in the light of day could be different than what they notice creeping around in the darkness. A desert will obviously have different obstacles than a jungle.

All of this can add tension to your story. It can cause predicaments for your characters or it can aid them.



How does climate play a part in your stories? Do you think it's an important factor in what you write?

Some news and another heads-up on a contest.

Remember how I said I've been very distracted (re: a bad blogger who still hasn't updated her world-building series) because of many things, including trying to move back to Tennessee? Well, that's stepped up a notch, because I'm moving in fifteen days. O_O  I didn't know this until yesterday. We knew it could happen really fast, and I'm super excited, but I have so much sorting, organizing, and packing to do. Most of my day today is going to be spent organizing things for a very fast yard sale tomorrow. If at all possible, I'm going to squeeze in my world-building update during lunch, after I sort through all the books on my shelves.

But just as forewarning: my blogging over the next few weeks is likely to be sporadic. Thanks for hanging in there with me!

For now, here's a shiny contest that the lovely Becky Taylor is having over on her blog to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Check out her blog--she's fantastic! Becky Taylor's Amazon Contest

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Miriam Forster is having a contest on her blog. She's an awesome person and has some great writing advice. You should check out the rest of her blog, too!

 Miriam's Contest

Monday, May 23, 2011

New Plans and Paths

I'm going to update my world-building series next, really!  First, though, I wanted to talk about what's been so eating at my mind and distracting me so very much.

First, my husband and I made the decision to try to move back to Tennessee this summer. I lived there for a good chunk of my life--my family moved to Tennessee when I was eleven, and I didn't move away until three and a half years ago. I've been in Ohio the past few years.  The possibility of moving back has been very exciting and preoccupying.

On top of that, I have one book, Rising (which is my steampunkish fantasy book), that I just finished, and I'm beginning to work on the sequel. I wasn't sure when I was writing it whether I thought it would be a good fit for my publishing company, and this got me doing a lot of thinking about what I wanted for the books, why I write, what my goals are, things like that. Some things that I had thought I might not want and some things I thought I might want have shifted quite a lot.

These two books and what I might want to do with them got me thinking about another book I wrote. This one has an insanely long title: Confessions from the Realm of the Underworld (Also Known as High School).  I wrote it in 2009--it was my first (though not last) foray into a regular story about a modern day family. Usually I'm all about writing fantasy. It also turned out to be one of the easiest books I've ever written in that the characters and story all clicked in my head from the beginning and flowed so easily as I wrote it.

My publisher offered me a contract on this book, and I was going to take it.  And the interim, I got to all of this thinking and praying, looking at the future of my two new books and what I wanted for them, what I wanted overall with my writing, and then looking at Confessions.  I talked to my husband and rambled like crazy as I wavered on the edge of the unknown.  I did research. A lot of research. I weighed pros and cons.

I love my publishing company. My editor has been so patient and fantastic, and my co-author and I still have a contract on the second book in our series, and a contract pending on the third book. I've been thrilled to work with them and believe in their goals, and the wait to get my first book published with them was very worth it.  But I've also decided that there are some things I want to try and some new things I want to explore.

In the end, this weekend I made the decision to self-publish Confessions. This is both terrifying and exciting, because it's a whole new avenue, and I have so much to learn and do this summer.  I haven't set a definitive release date--I want to do some more research and organize a list of what I want to do beforehand--but sometime this year. I'm tentatively leaning toward September, but we'll see if that gives me enough time.

My summer is going to be quite busy with that and with hopefully moving. So that's what's happening with me and why it's been so hard to concentrate on anything else. What's going on with all of you?  Anything new or unexpected happening in your life?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

World-Building, Part 3: Rules

I'm back! Finally! Today I'm exploring the very simple idea that your world needs rules. I don't mean writing rules; I mean you need to have boundaries established for your world.

There are two major elements in a lot of world-building that I'm going to tackle today: science and magic.

Your world is almost positively going to be bound by some kind of rules of science. Gravity, heat, geology, plants, animals, etc. Even a lack of these things could exist on your world, but there would be reasons and repercussions. No gravity—how do people live, then? They live on world of ice—how do they keep warm?

Your world can be anything you want it to be, but if there aren't boundaries and rules, no one is going to understand it. If you have flying porcupines, fantastic, but make sure that we know if there are limitations or problems with this.


In the last novel I wrote, Rising, I created technology that all ran off of one particular source of energy. I've spent the past year and some odd months inventing the various kinds of tech used by this world. I had to know how certain things worked and everything had to be consistent.  Aside from imaginary technology, I also had some science that was extremely important to the story. I did a ton of research on the internet, read a lot of things, understood some of it, and got a headache trying to figure out other parts of it and how it would relate to my story. Could I do Option A? Would that be plausible? What about Option B? Would it make sense based on the scientific rules established in this world? What other options did I have?  Would I lose my mind before I figured it all out?


That's when I went to my brilliant friend Emily, who is my go-to for Things Science Related, and she explained this particular science to me clearly and helped me piece together how some things would plausibly work and how some things wouldn't work.

The "wouldn't work" bit was just as important as the "would work" stuff. It meant that I was stuck with certain things I couldn't do, because I would be undermining the established science of this world. I had to then reevaluate my plans and figure out how to solve the plot problems based on this knowledge.

The same thing works for magic you have in your world. When my co-author and I began to plan and write our Restoration series back in 2003, we decided to base the magic on the elements. There are limitations—some magic is harder than others, the ones doing magic can get exhausted easily, stuff like that. There are some things we haven't explored yet, but in a long series, we have a time and a place in different books to explain certain things.

The point is, you have magic, great, but what are the rules? Are there limitations? Limitations can help your characters. Everyone has a weakness (or they should). Even the all-powerful genie in Disney's Aladdin was bound by rules. He could grant any wish, yes, except he was a prisoner of his lamp and bound by his genie laws.

We don't create rules to frustrate ourselves (though ohhh, the rules we create can lead us to some frustrating situations). We create rules so that we know how our world operates and how we can plausibly build our plot. Rules shouldn't create confusion.  They should add to the world and give you and your readers a solid grasp on what's possible for that world…and what isn't.

*Have you found the boundaries of your worlds helpful? Have you had to reevaluate your plot or plan something because of the established rules of your world?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Yet More Artwork

I was going to update my world-building series on Friday, but as I'm sure everyone knows, Blogger was down.  Truthfully, I don't think I'd have managed a blog post then anyway.  I have some life stuff (good life stuff!) going on and at the end of last week it made it super hard to concentrate on anything. I've also been working on starting Rising Book 2, the sequel to the novel I just finished.  I know, excuses, excuses. ;)  I will get back to my world-building series this week. Right now I feel so terribly behind on everything blogging/twitter/networking related.

In the meantime, I'm here to post more of my friend Holly's art.  In April, I shared a picture she drew of two of my characters from Rising Book 1. This is Lachlan and Brenna, who are two other characters from the same book. They were secondary characters, but they're being bumped up to main characters in the sequel. And this picture is beautiful and inspiring and I'm so, so grateful to have such stunning art of my characters that I can stare at when I'm writing them.


Art © Holly Robbins
Lachlan & Brenna © Laura Josephsen

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

World-Building, Part 2: Setting

As I said in my first world-building post, characters and setting really go hand-in-hand.  If you have the characters, they're not going to go anywhere until you at least know where they're starting.  Even if you don't always know where they're going next or why they're starting there.

Your setting can be anywhere, but you want to let your reader get an idea of where your character is, what kind of world they're on, what's around them, and what's normal or not normal.  You can describe your setting if you need to, but you can also use characters' actions to tell you about it.  You can find out a lot about what kind of place someone is in by what a character is doing or experiencing. I typed up some random sentences as examples of this:




The more familiar you are with your world, the easier it will be for you to write in it and the more real it will feel to you.  If you need to write out every description of where your character is, what everyone looks like, what people are wearing, etc., then go ahead and write it out for yourself.  Then consider what descriptions really need to be in your story and what the best way to present them might be.  There's a balance between giving a clear picture of your world and over-describing everything.

What works for one person isn't necessarily going to work for someone else.  There are so many rules that crop up in writing--don't write like that, write like this instead.  It's good to grow in our craft, of course, but I think sometimes that if we focus too much on all the rules, we can get overwhelmed and lose the creativity of just writing.  Language and description can always be cleaned up in revisions.  Have fun exploring your world!

*How do you prefer to explore the settings in a book when you're writing/reading?

Friday, May 6, 2011

World-Building, Part 1: Characters

Everyone builds worlds differently.  Everyone writes differently.  I know there are so many writers out there who have built far more worlds than I have, but I'll share what I can from my experiences and I hope that you guys will share your thoughts and world-building techniques, too.

In all of the novels I have written and/or co-written, I've had the chance to develop several different types of worlds.  Each of these worlds required different types of building blocks to be established and I've learned different things from each one. 

I was torn between talking with setting and characters today, because they go hand-in-hand in many ways.  Of course you have to have a setting.  What is your setting?  A world covered with mountains?  Post-apocalyptic Earth where the only continent habitable now is Antarctica?  People living in boats, trains, floating cities, normal houses, caves?  You need to figure out what your world is like, and I will talk more about developing setting in my next world-building post.  Right now, I'm focusing on what I learn from characters, because when it comes down to it, I start my world-building with them.

I am a "character author."  My novels begin when a character walks into my head and says, "Hello, you're going to write my story! No, I don't care if you don't know what the setting or the plot is; you'll figure it out!  Now let me make myself comfortable in you brain and I'll poke at you with a stick until you figure out what kind of world this is."

More than that, characters are the eyes and ears and voice to tell the readers about your world.  (Unless you are telling the story in omniscient narrative, which I don't do--I would feel too disconnected from the characters.) I'm not talking about info-dumping; I'm talking about letting readers learn what the world is like by what a character sees, thinks, and does.

Let me throw some examples out there.

Example 1: Character sees a giant pointy-toothed cat and isn't fazed by it.  I know now that giant, ferocious looking cats are a natural part of this environment.  Character isn't afraid of it, maybe I shouldn't be worried either.


Example 2: Character observes a street full of people carrying white lilies.  She realizes that someone must have died, because white lilies are the symbol of death in this world.  Later in the story, someone approaches her with a white lily and I'm freaked out because: Ahhhh!! Who died!?!?


Example 3: Character loves this restaurant.  She goes there every week, and we find out through the gossip of a couple servers that her dad took her there when she was little.  After her dad died, she's come there by herself.  Later in the story, when the restaurant is destroyed in a storm, we feel the loss of the character's haven.


We didn't just learn about the characters, we learned about the world around them, what is happening in the story, and what their environment is like.

*What are your thoughts on characters and how they shape your world and settings?  Or do you come up with your world first and shape your characters around that?


I finally finished my novel, Rising Book 1, yesterday. It's was one of the most difficult books I have ever written and I would not have been able to do it without so much support along the way.

The great news for me is that the only thing missing on this story for the past couple of months has been the last chapter. I could not figure out how to end the book, and got so frustrated trying that I finally set it aside for a month to take a reading hiatus.  The rest of the story, however, has already been edited and revised multiple times, and put through several beta readers. This is going to make final editing super easy.  All I have to edit is the last chapter.

I'm so, so, so relieved that this book is done.

Time between the day I started this book and the day I finished:  1 year, 2 months, 15 days. 

Final word count: 119,554

Amount of sanity I have left: Um, did I have any to begin with?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Welcome to May

I hope that you all had a fabulous April.  I had a great time doing the April A-Z challenge, and now I'm busy figuring out what I'm doing this month.  I'm going to give myself a couple of days off of blogging, and then I'm going to start a series on world-building.  I'll aim for doing my first world-building post on Wednesday. 

In the meantime, I have some goals this month:

-Write the last chapter of my novel, Rising.  This book has been revised, edited, polished, put through betas, ripped apart, and put back together, and is completely ready to go--except that it's missing the last chapter. The reason for this is that I have to write the sequel, and I knew that whatever happened in the last chapter would be the precursor to starting the second book.  The good news is that because everything else has been edited/revised/polished/put through betas, it will make final editing a breeze: I'll only have one chapter to tackle!

-Start Rising Book 2.

-Keep up the regular blogging.

-Keep reading.  About a month ago, I took a break from writing to do some hardcore reading, because I desperately needed to step back from writing for a few weeks. I knew that when I was ready to write again, I would be chomping at the bit, and I'm about at that point, but I want to keep reading while I'm doing it.  I still have about ten books in my TBR pile.

There are other things that are not goals, but things that will happen, like spending time with my family and finishing most of my kids' homeschooling (some of it may carry into June).  But this is my list of writerly things. (Shh, writerly is a word. >_>)


 What are you doing this month?