WORLDBUILDING GONE WILD
When I started working on my latest project, Three Faiths Crossed (which you can read more about here), I really wanted to dedicate a lot of effort to my worldbuilding. The themes that I wanted to explore in the work were largely political and cultural, and I wanted my characters to be reflections of the cultures they were raised in. I wanted the world to be rich and vibrant in its own right. So I spent months planning and worldbuilding and drawing maps and fleshing out secondary characters and cultures and religions. I got extremely carried away. I’d never considered that this might actually be a bad thing until I read this incredible blog post by Victoria Aveyard which you can find here.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still want to create a vibrant world to serve as the backdrop for my novel, but I had taken this far beyond a point that was actually productive. I spent hours on Pinterest picking out actors to represent more and mor minor characters until I had a cast topping out at over 200. I had to create an Excel spreadsheet just to keep track of them all. Not only was this a massive waste of my time in the first place, but the cast was bogging down my story. I couldn’t advance the plot forward because I was so busy trying to introduce new characters to my audience in every chapter. I’ve had to spend hours going through my spreadsheet and Pinterest boards to decide which characters to cut, and this means I’ll have to spend massive amounts of time rewriting the scenes that I’ve already written, transferring over dialogue to characters who still exist. Not only has this been time-consuming, it’s also been difficult. Every writer knows how excruciating it can be to have to kill your darlings. And all of this could have been avoided if I’d just known when to stop worldbuilding.
As a writer, it’s important to know what you need to plan and what you can allow to evolve as you write your story. Many of the finer details of your setting and minor characters can be left out of the planning to save you time, and it will make sure you only give your readers information that they actually need to understand the story. When you as the writer have all these irrelevant details in your head (like the major crops and which regions they grow in and the name of every noble in the country), you can be tempted to try to cram all of that information into your novel, but this will only bog down your story in the end. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the best thing to do may be to simply not plan it all out at all. Stop procrastinating by convincing yourself you’re being productive and get to writing.
If you want even more information about the right and the wrong ways to go about worldbuilding, you can check out these videos by one of my favorite indie authors, Jenna Moreci:
10 WORST Worldbuilding Tips
Common Worldbuilding Mistakes
TOP INDIE READS
As an indie author, it's always been important to me to support other indie writers and help spread the word about great indie or self-published books out there. The problem with indie reads, though, is they can often be hard to find in the vastly saturate book market. So I've compiled a list of some of the best ones out there, at least that I've discovered so far.
THE SAVIOR'S CHAMPION
Tobias Kaya doesn't care about The Savior. He doesn't care that She's the Ruler of the realm or that She purified the land, and he certainly doesn't care that She's of age to be married. But when competing for Her hand proves to be his last chance to save his family, he’s forced to make The Savior his priority.
Now Tobias is thrown into the Sovereign’s Tournament with nineteen other men, and each of them is fighting—and killing—for the chance to rule at The Savior's side. Instantly his world is plagued with violence, treachery, and manipulation, revealing the hidden ugliness of his proud realm. And when his circumstances seem especially dire, he stumbles into an unexpected romance, one that opens him up to unimaginable dangers and darkness.
Read my review here
A myth as old as civilization.
The boy who donned wax wings and flew too close to the sun. Follow the tale of Icarus. And that of the father who tried to save him ... but brought his life to an end.
You will come to love him. Then you will watch him fall. Live the tragic story as you never imagined possible.
REVIEW: HOUSE OF SALT AND SORROWS
Wow. This book. I absolutely could not put it down, especially as I neared the end. This tale was expertly woven and dark and captivating. The number one rule for reading this book is that absolutely nothing is as it seems.
As the plot unfolds, it becomes more and more complex, and neither the reader nor the protagonist knows what’s real and what are the contents of her own delusions. The story is riddled with magic and mysticism and dark powers at work within an alluring and luxurious setting. At no point in the novel did I feel like I knew what was going to happen next, which is part of what makes the narrative so compelling.
If there’s one thing I didn’t like about this book, it’s that at times the resolutions seemed very ‘deus ex machina.’ In the midst of the conflict, this seems mostly fitting. There are literal gods at work in the story, and the use of this device doesn’t take away from the quality of the narrative. The real problem with this comes in at the epilogue. Here, the deus ex machina isn’t used to add another layer of mystery and dark forces, but to give the protagonist a picturesque happy ending, which feels at odds with the rest of the story. Maybe I’m just prejudiced against happy endings, but this definitely felt out of place to me, especially because it wasn’t really explained at all, it was just delivered to us and we were expected to accept it.
Despite this slight issue with the epilogue, I truly loved reading this story, and I would highly recommend it to all fantasy fans. It was twisted and enchanting in all the right ways, and despite being a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses story, it was a truly original story unlike anything I had ever read before.
Buy it on Bookshop
REVIEW: FOUR DEAD QUEENS
I have mixed feelings about this book. While I’d still recommend it, there are definitely some things about it that bother me.
On the one hand, the entire premise of the story was incredibly original. From the half old-school fantasy half futuristic-dystopian setting to the very basis of the plot, this book was new and fresh and unlike anything I had ever read before. It certainly wasn’t the typical young adult fantasy read.
I also really loved the main character, Keralie. She was somewhat more typical to the YA fantasy genre, and she reminded me a bit of Mare from the Red Queen series (a series which I love dearly, by the way). The character of Mackiel was also very interesting and compelling, and the storylines revolving around him and his relationship to Keralie were probably my favorite parts of the story.
Yet this discussion of characters brings up one of my first issues with the novel. If you didn’t already know, the premise of the story involves the country (aptly named Quadara) being divided into four quadrants: Toria, Archia, Eonia, and Ludia. Keralie and Mackiel are both Torians. The Torian characters are the most well developed in the book and definitely seem the most human. The characters from other quadrants often fall a bit flat and are almost caricature-ish.
This leads pretty nicely into my biggest complaint with the novel: the worldbuilding. More specifically, my issue was with the way in which the worldbuilding was conveyed to the reader. The entire time I was reading, especially in the first half, I felt like I was being condescended to. Every time a character performed an action, those actions were then explained to the reader in terms of their quadrant’s values and personality types, and those were often the only traits the characters had. It would have been fine, in my opinion, if the characters simply portrayed the traits of their quadrant, but every single time anyone did anything, it was qualified with a statement like “in typical Ludist fashion” or “because of her curious Torian nature.” It got old very fast. I soon found myself screaming at the book that I already know that Torians are curious and begging to just get on with the story. The other place where this was an issue was with Queenly Law. Before the book even begins, the tenants of Queenly Law are listed for the reader. Then, individual laws from this list are placed in certain chapter heads. Yet the characters within the story are constantly explaining to each other what Queenly Law states. It was overdone.
The second big issue I have with this book is the plot, particularly the latter half. In the beginning, I was incredibly interested and engaged. It’s a given to the reader very early on that the queens will die (it’s in the title), so it was very interesting to be reading certain chapters from their perspectives. I wanted to know more about Keralie and Mackiel and their history and what he was hiding. I was hooked. But that started to fall apart about halfway through the book. Mackiel was soon left behind, only to continuously pop up out of nowhere, and the plot seemed to diverge from its original course.
It's very hard to discuss without spoiling the book, but I’ll try my best. An event that the readers and Keralie have assumed to already have happened turns out not to have happened yet. This should be a good thing. They should be able to stop it now, and they try. Yet they end up wandering around in vain and accomplishing nothing. It happens anyway. Keralie has been unable to effect any change. The problem with this for me is that the main character lacks agency. She doesn’t seem to be in control of her own world. This problem grows much worse with the big twist of the novel, which blows lack of agency to a new proportion. From that point in the novel on, I was totally disillusioned with the plot. I couldn’t follow the timeline anymore, and I found myself wondering what the point of most of the novel even was, if Keralie never could have done anything anyway.
The other thing I didn’t like about the plot was that the mastermind behind the whole thing, the true antagonist, didn’t make an appearance until the final quarter of the book, when suddenly she was narrating certain chapters. I felt cheated out of a chance to try to put all the puzzle pieces together.
Yet still, I kept reading all the way through to the end, desperate to learn the truth of the matter and to know where Keralie ended up.
Overall, Four Dead Queens was a brilliantly conceived novel and a refreshing twist on the YA fantasy genre standards, but it was much less brilliantly executed. It was an experiment with the technique of the unreliable narrator, but it failed, because the clues weren’t there for the reader to pick up on at all. It still might be worth a read, but I’m walking away from it feeling mostly disappointed, especially since I had such high hopes for it in the first place.
Buy it on Bookshop
A FANTASY NOVEL BREWING
I’ve been neglecting my blog recently, and for that I am very sorry. Life has simply gotten in the way.
Despite that, however, I’m very excited to announce to all of you my newest project, tentatively titled Three Faiths Crossed. It’s a YA fantasy novel, and remarkably different from New Hope and what I’ve done before, but it reflects what I’ve been reading lately.
The novel follows four different characters with intersecting paths through the country of Zorentine, a country plagued by a brutal on-going war and internal religious strife. The characters, Tatia, Mattas, Roena, and Laia, each have very different backgrounds and very different roles to play in this continental conflict.
The project so far has been a world-building storm, and truth be told I may have gone completely overboard. I have almost an entire spiral notebook filled with historic and cultural information, character bios, extra scenes, and this lovely map I can’t wait to jazz up and use in the front matter of my book.
I’ve been working on it now since the fall of 2018, and I’m only seven chapters in to the (handwritten) first draft. Now that I’m home on quarantine, I’m finding the time to really dig in and make a lot of progress, so I hope to be bringing more updates and bonus content soon. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on everything (the title, the map, etc) in comments below, and drop any questions you might have.
THE ANSWER TO THE ADVERB PROBLEM
It’s no secret that the writing community has waged a war on adverbs. Stephen King once said that the road to hell was paved with them. The chief complaint is that they weaken the prose, serving as an easy way out for writers who are too lazy to show instead of tell and that they aren’t worth their weight when it comes to the economy of words. And what all this hatred of adverbs has led to is their almost total eradication from the page.
But how have we managed to convince ourselves that there is an entire part of speech which is inherently evil? At first, these claims seem justified. Oftentimes, a stronger verb can take the place of a weak verb and an adverb put together. This is true when substituting “dashed” for “ran quickly” or “shouted” for “said loudly.” In these cases, by all means, eradicate your adverbs. This works here because the adverbs do actually add any necessary information to the phrase, and the job is accomplished in fewer words by using a stronger verb.
But the fact of the matter is that a substitution doesn’t always work so well. Take for example the sentence “She stared wistfully out the car window.” There is no single verb which means specifically “to stare wistfully” or anything which comes even remotely close, and it would take far too long to describe all of her body language which might convey the wistfulness. In this case, it makes much more sense to simply use an adverb, especially because simply deleting the adverb would alter the meaning of the sentence.
The rule of thumb? Never use an adverb which simply means the same thing as the verb. Running is always quick, and you don’t need an adverb to tell your reader this. Instead, use an adverb when there is no direct substitute for the word, or the adverb tells the reader information they otherwise wouldn’t have known.
It’s easy to think of this rule in terms of adjectives, which function in virtually the same way that adverbs do but are far less disputed. There is no sense in using the phrase “the green grass” because grass, at its default, is usually green, and including the adjective doesn’t give the reader any extra information. On the other hand, “the brown grass” or “the dead grass” does give the reader added information and would be appropriate places to use an adjective. This same principle can easily be applied to adverbs.
Regardless of where you stand on the adverb issue, hopefully this post has helped put some things in perspective, and remember, always be wary of definitive writing advice which tells you to “always do this” or “never do that.” Writing is an art, and seldom does it conform to rules as concrete as these. That being said, good luck and happy writing!
OUT OF TIME
My heart was racing, and I could feel the force of my blood pounding in my ears. My stomach was in knots, and I had to swallow back the urge to puke. The whole room felt like it was spinning, closing in, collapsing around me. I dug my fingers into the ratty couch beneath me, holding on for dear life until my knuckles went white.
I closed my eyes and forced myself to breathe, trying to wrest some of the dread from my chest, trying to make the world slow down. but it was no use.
I was running out of time. The clock was counting down on the faded, flickering screen. There was no picture, just numbers, cold and unforgiving. There used to be hours left. Months, days. Now there were just minutes.
Years ago, when the clock first started counting, people used to talk about it a lot. There were always newscasters, musing, predicting, pretending to know more than we did. Five thousand theories were passed through the hallways on anxious lips. Politicians tried to explain it away, to blame anarchists and radicals and everybody but themselves. My sister Bri and I, we used to joke that it was just someone waiting for a grand old oven to preheat. Now, there were no more jokes, no more speculation, just the time.
People used to panic, even after they had stopped talking, but it didn’t happen right away. No, at first it was just a sick joke, a teenager making some desperate grab for their fifteen minutes of fame. We waited and waited, but the clock didn’t go away. No one came forward. There was no one waiting in the wings to tell us it was all a game. When that sunk in, it became real. And then came the fear.
It was funny how people reacted in the face of a storm. How the fear drove them to run away, evacuate, as if that would keep them safe from the numbers counting down. Or maybe they just wanted to seize the day. Either way, it didn’t matter. They quit their jobs. Stores closed. The whole city seemed to shut down because there was no one left to keep it going.
We even stopped going to school, but I didn’t mind it. The speculation was too much. It just made the fear worse. Schools were like that. They tend to have a snow-balling effect. The rumors grew greater and greater until they were too much, until they were crushing, until they had spiraled entirely out of control. So we just stopped and ran away like everybody else.
But like everything else, the fear had died down over time, the time that was measured, that we didn’t have. Somehow, people managed to push that constant, ticking reminder to the backs of their minds and keep moving forward.
Not anymore. Now, the clock approached ever closer to zero, and it refused to be ignored. It demanded attention, sucked up everything until there was no space left for anything else. Every second seemed to pass by in a sort of unearthly haze, like the world was being filtered through water, the image always just a little bit out of focus, leaving a thousand different versions of reality in its wake. The problem was, no one knew how to tell which was the truth, and we all had to make sense of things in our own ways. We all had to learn how to cope.
The way my mother chose to do it reminded me of a bird. A magpie, I think they’re called. Not long after the clock appeared, she started to stockpile things, useless things, like make-up and old compact discs. She called it “being prepared,” but I wasn’t sure what she thought she was preparing for. She flitted about the room, constantly pacing, and her mouth never stopped moving, endless nervous chatter spouting from it like birdsong. But the worst part of it all, was that, like a bird, she developed a tendency to fly away, to flee at the smallest sign of danger. She disappeared sometimes for days on end, always leaving us behind.
I looked at her now, mumbling under her breath, pacing restlessly throughout the next room, pausing every once in a while to steady herself on a counter-top as she stumbled and pulled at strands of her fraying, white-blonde hair. Her clothes were stained, her dress torn above the knee, and she kept straightening it, pretending not to be staring at the clock. Her whole body seemed to shake. I could see it on her sunken, hollow face. She wanted to run.
I sighed, bringing my fingers to my temple to try to rub away some of the stress. I couldn’t really blame her. Even if I’d wanted to be, what was the use of being angry with only thirteen seconds left?
I squeezed my sister’s hand. Bri sat balled up on the hardwood floor, knees hugged tight to her chest, fingers absentmindedly tearing at the end of her once perfect braid, her stoic silence soaking up my mother’s hurricane of noise. I don’t know how she always managed to keep it all together. She was stronger than she should have had to be at her age. But still, I could see the cracks forming in her shell where she was starting to fall apart.
I wish I could have brought myself to offer her a comforting smile, to give her something to ease her fragile nerves, but I couldn’t. Besides, what use was comfort with only three seconds left?
Finally, my mother stopped pacing and was still. The house felt empty without the sounds of her footsteps echoing from the walls.
Bri stood up, letting go of my hand and letting her hair fall. Her legs were shaking.
I walked over to the television and flicked off the screen.
I was certain the world was going to end today. And then, against all odds, it didn’t.
Poppies. Thousands of them.
Plucked from the earth, delicate petals woven into dozens of flower crowns piled on the ground. Children, little girls, silent, sitting in a broken meadow, weaving more.
A half-assembled crown was falling apart in my lap, abandoned. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking.
Children weren’t supposed to look like this. They were supposed to smile. To laugh. Not to cry. Not to be dirty, subdued, alone.
But I couldn’t blame them.
I was crying too.
I could feel the songs of ghosts whipping through the meadow with the wind, turning the air heaving and leaving ice across my soul.
Even though I was sitting, I staggered. My head was swimming, unsteady, too full and too empty all at once. I placed my hand on the ground to stabilize myself.
I pulled my hand back, and I gagged. My fingers were black, covered in ash.
Or it would be, if there was anything left.
Suddenly, there were broad hands on my shoulders, jarring me from my thoughts, and I jumped.
“Sorry,” Alex whispered, lips pressed against the top of my head. “But it’s time.”
I sighed, trying to clear my head, but I don’t know why I bothered. I settled for pushing the voices into the background where they were fuzzy and not quite as loud.
I stood, taking Alex’s warm, brown hand in mine so I could borrow some of his strength.
Together, we started rounding up the kids, collecting the crowns. I was grateful Alex was there to do all of the talking. Most of the kids were too young to really understand, and I couldn’t bear to break it to them. So I just stood there, holding out my arms, and trying not to crush the flowers.
And then finally we turned to face all that we had left.
Charred foundations of what used to be houses stood scattered throughout the meadow. I could still see pictures of the lives we used to have floating among the wreckage. The lives we had before.
Before the bombs that fell and burned our village to the ground and tore apart the earth. Before the war that made everything scarce and put us all at risk. Before almost everyone we’d ever known had died. Before Alex was an expert at making tombstones and I could barely make a poppy crown.
I turned to Alex, wondering how his big, brown eyes were still dry. “How did we end up like this?” I asked.
“You can’t think about this now, Gill. All we can do now is honor the dead and move forward from there.”
He took my hand and lead me through the ruins of the village across to the other side where a whole sea of wooden tombstones marked a sea of shallow graves Alex had dug because I hadn’t had the strength to.
But now it was my turn, and I stepped into the sea, one by one laying flower crowns at the head of every grave until we were standing in an all new field of bright red poppies.
Flash fiction is one of the hardest parts of fiction to define, probably because it has such a wide range of what it encompasses, from the six-word story to anything under 2,000 words. The point is, flash fiction is the absolute shortest medium of fiction, and because of this, its quite often the most powerful.
When you boil a story down to only its bare bones, there is no space left for anything that doesn’t matter, and only the potent and impactful remains.
But the most wonderful thing about flash fiction is that because of its brevity, you can write a piece of it every day in a relatively short amount of time. Practicing is one of the best things a writer can do, especially when they’re experiencing writer’s block on one of their bigger projects. Flash fiction can give an author an opportunity to step away from the bigger picture and flex their creative muscles on a smaller scale, the goal eventually being to stop the cycle of writer’s block that’s tanking the big projects.
Flash fiction can also, because of how easy it is to self-publish, be an opportunity for up-and-coming authors to establish a steady readership and gain a following. It’s an easy way for a writer to periodically show potential readers samples of their work in a way that is much more satisfying for the reader than a free sample that ends on a cliff hanger.
Flash fiction is not only a useful exercise in improving craft but also in building an author platform. And, it’s a lot of fun, especially in our increasingly fast-paced world in which brevity and convenience can be key factors in getting read.
For more information, visit these helpful links:
Flash Fiction: What's It All About?
What is Flash Fiction?
To read some examples of flash fiction, visit these links:
Flash Fiction: A series of very short stories for the summer.
21 Flash Fiction Stories to Read While You Wait Anywhere
I had forgotten how much pain a good book can cause.
There is nothing quite like the physical heartache you get when you care about the characters so much and so deeply that their pain becomes your own. When you are rooting so hard for two characters that your chest is heavy and empty when they are pulled apart. When you are so invested in the character that you are the character, and you not only want them to survive, but you need them to.
It has been so long since I’ve read something that made me feel this connection, and it’s the mark of spectacular writing. Aletheia made me feel it.
The main character was such a well-rounded, fleshed-out person, and she couldn’t have felt more real. She had history that began way before the first page, relationships long past that bled into the story in an incredibly realistic way.
Besides the astounding characters, the plot was profound and remarkably strung together. There were twists at every turn, both predicted and surprising. The worldbuilding was rich, and it stood apart from the fad of YA dystopian novels in a wonderful way. The stakes were high, the consequences were real, and the conflicts were multi-layered with enemies at both sides of the table. I couldn’t put the book down.
The one and only issue with Aletheia was that it was poorly edited. The errors were at times distracting from the extraordinary quality of the story, and it hurt my heart to see such a wonderful novel hindered in such a way.
Regardless, the book was still one of the best I have read in a very long time. The prose was captivating, easily measuring up to the vast scale of the story it set out to tell. I am hanging off the edge of the seat as I anxiously await the sequel.
Buy it on Bookshop
Native Tongue by Suzette Haden Elgin
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