Do’s and Don’ts of World-building

If you’re writing either a fantasy story or a sci-fi one, there is no getting around the world-building. It’s pretty much essential to your genre. World-building occurs when your story’s world deviates from the “rules” of present world that we occupy. So even if your story isn’t set in an entirely different planet, but it’s got a little dusting of magic thrown in, guess what? You’ve entered the realm of world-building. And that requires us to begin looking for and providing explanations for why our fantasy world functions the way it does. 

When it comes to the art of world-building, there are certain things we need to keep in mind. Even though world-building does break the rules of our present space, there still is a certain way of creating your fantasy or sci-fi world so that it reads coherently and doesn’t come off as a big hot mess to your readers. 

So, if you’re grappling with how to create an alternate reality in which your world is set, here are some common mistakes you might want to avoid making:

Spending too much time world-building: There is such a thing as spending too much time building your world. While you do need to build up your world and explain the whys and hows, what you don’t want is to get so wrapped up in creating the world that your book reads more like a history lesson than a story. The way I like to do things is I like to create the entire world separate of the story – complete with a history and a language if there is one – and then just pick and drop in the bits that are relevant to the story. I don’t know how many are familiar with Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, but it’s the theory of omission. There is only 5% of the story on the surface while the rest of it is underwater. And if the writing is clear and concise, then the reader can infer the other 95% of the story. It kind of works like a show, don’t tell sort of idea. But basically, I like to look at world-building with almost the same lens as the Iceberg Theory. If you know the world well enough yourself, you really only need to show the reader the relevant parts while the rest is left underwater. That is why I’ll list out everything about my world ahead of time, but just include what is relevant to the plot. 

Including things that are never used: This sort of touches back to my first point. It’s okay to build an entire family tree for yourself, but unless it’s a vital part of the plot, don’t include it in the book. Same with language. Unless there is a major plot point around an alien language there is no need to include an alphabet or launch into an explanation of the grammatical rules surrounding a certain language. A simple clue that there is another language in the world – like referring to a “common tongue” or a character noting that another character has the accent of a certain tribe – is more than inclusion enough. Don’t over explain something, especially if it’s a part of the world that doesn’t warrant an explanation in the first place. 

Not planning ahead: While there is no time like the present, getting a little ahead of yourself doesn’t hurt when you are world-building. Particularly if you’re creating a series. You want to have somewhat of a long-term grasp of your world. It helps to cut down on future plot holes. 

Lack of conflict: Let’s face it, perfect worlds are boring. Our current world is a festering cornucopia of social, political, and environmental problems the world over. But that is what makes our lives interesting – we all have our own personal struggles to overcome. We’re our own heroes or heroines in the stories of our lives, and we can thank the conflicts we face for that. Your fantasy or sci-fi world should also hold conflicts that affect or influence your characters. That is what is needed to start them on their heroes’ journey. Don’t create a perfect world, create a flawed one and watch the fun unfold. 

Creating a world that has been done before: Yes, we’re all prone to being inspired by other books or movies or TV shows that we’ve enjoyed. But the last thing you want to do is be charged with derivative copyright infringement for creating a carbon copy of a world that has already appeared in another work of fiction. Of course, just because someone has already written a book about a group of students attending a magical school, or someone else has a world in which cars fly, that doesn’t mean you can’t still write your own story. What it means is that if you’re going to have a world of flying cars, or a story about students attending a magic school, you need to put your own spin on it and make your world as uniquely you as possible. 

Breaking your own rules: Readers of sci-fi or fantasy are willing to suspend their belief. But they won’t forgive the writer for breaking their own rules. So, when you are creating your world, be sure to pay attention to the rules that you’re setting in place. If you are creating a world in which witches only discover their magic powers at the age of 14, but then suddenly you’ve got witches practicing magic and spells at 5 years old, your readers are going to be confused and upset by these plot holes. That is why as the writer and the “god” of your world, you need to pay attention to the rules that you have set forth. Don’t break your own rules. It creates a lot of plot holes and angry readers. 

Writing Likable Characters

We all want our readers to be invested in our stories. When a reader invests in your story, they are investing in a continued journey with you as a writer. Besides having someone thoroughly enjoy the work that you put so much effort into, having an invested reader can lead to great opportunities such as representation and publication if you’re seeking a more traditional means of publishing, or a loyal fan-base and more clout on social media if you’ve chosen to go with self-publication. Either way, only good things can come for you and your book if you have invested readers. 

But what is the key to success to capturing the hearts of readers? One of the easiest ways to get a reader completely on board with your book is to create likable and relatable characters. Think of all the books that you personally like – how many of them can you honestly say you like them for reasons other than the characters? Sure, the Harry Potter series is cool and JK Rowling outdid herself when she created the wizarding world, but if you stripped all the magic away, you’d be left with only the characters. And that was truly the heart of the books. It was Harry, Hermoine, and Ron that stole our hearts and made us want to keep reading. You can try to counter argue, but deep down you know it’s true. Take any story of any genre and strip away the fantastical settings, the plot twists, the romances, etc. and you’ll see that it’s the characters that are always at the heart of all our beloved books. 

But what is it about certain main characters that resonate with us and make us feel invested in their stories? All these beloved main characters and side characters that we love to discuss at length with friends, cosplay at events, or make fanart for; the one thing that they all have in common is their likability and relatability. So how do you go about creating characters that people like and want to follow?

Here are some tips:

Vulnerability– giving your character a vulnerability is one of the easiest ways to get your character to resonate with readers. This vulnerability can either be a physical one like a handicap or an emotional one. Either way, seeing a character struggle with their own weaknesses, hopes, limitations, or fears is always a way to get readers to see themselves in a character. 

Backstory– kind of lining up a bit with the vulnerability point is backstory. Introducing a why for the character’s actions or thoughts is always a way to make them seem relatable. And looking to their backstory is a good place to start. This is particularly helpful if you want to write an antagonist that is well-rounded and not just a straight up A-hole. Sometimes some of the best villains have some of the saddest or complicated backstories. Take the most recent Joker film. This is a perfect example of a well-rounded villain. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a bad guy, but getting to see his origins definitely helps us better understand his motivations. And in doing so we end up feeling bad for him – something that ends up making him more relatable in our eyes.  

Failure– letting your main character fail isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can definitely help the relatability of a character. We’ve all faced failure within our own lives. We all love an underdog story with the odds stacked against them. Let your character fail and make a courageous comeback. Their resilience will speak volumes with readers because we’ve all been there. 

Morals– most for the heroes of our stories making them be nice helps a bit. We want to think of characters as being generally nice. Characters that show kindness, generosity, or selflessness are generally seen as “good” and you want your characters to be good. No one likes a character that will kick a puppy and laugh. Of course, steer clear of making them a goodie-two-shoes. Some character flaws do make them more “human.” Also, don’t be afraid of giving your villains some morals too. Just because you have a supervillain who wants to destroy the world doesn’t mean that they can’t have a moment of selflessness. How many times do we end up liking villains after they end up redeeming themselves by showing a selfless side to them? Think Shadow Weaver’s sacrifice of herself to save Adora and Catra in Netflix’s She-ra. Personally, I shed a tear at that.

Humor– whether they’re self-deprecating, snarky, or just plain silly, giving your characters some sort of sense of humor makes them relatable to readers. We all love to laugh. It’s the next universal language besides love. So, it only stands to reason that readers would gravitate towards characters that have a funny side to them. And so long as their humor is true to the character’s personality, it will resonate with audiences.

Self-Awareness– let’s face it, flawed characters are the best characters. But the key to a good flawed character is that they’ve got enough self-awareness to be able to say sorry once in a while for their shortcomings. Giving your characters, particularly your heroes and heroines, a moment of “yeah I know I’m an A-hole sometimes but I’m trying” can definitely help readers cut them some slack for some of their more morally questionable actions. 

Fear and Pain– having a character be motivated by their fear or their pain can definitely make them relatable to readers. How many of us in our everyday lives are motivated to action by pain and fear? That 20-page college paper we’ve all written the night before it’s due was definitely written on pure motivation from fear of failure and a painful lack of sleep. Having characters move through plot points based off their fear and pain will definitely make them relatable. After all, nothing is more human in this life than feeling pain and fear, which is why our characters must feel these things too. 

Author Interview with Kortney Gallagher

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Kortney Gallagher after her appearance in the Lethal Impact anthology.


1. What inspired you to start writing?

I don’t like to think it was one single thing that inspired me to start writing. The plot to my favorite books excited me, the death of a fantastic character awed me, my children’s support pushes me, and the desire just to write for fun keeps me going, inspiring me to write every day. Which one began it? I couldn’t say.

2. What comes first, the plot or characters?

The characters, I sit and make a list of characters, I usually begin with five to ten, all intertwining, and one unrelated oddball, who is maybe a bit eccentric. I give those characters meaning, emotions, family ties, and personalities, then I decide what kind of chaos I am going to send them through in the next book plot.

3. What is the most difficult part about writing for you?

The most difficult part about writing for me is probably finding the time to write; between family, friends, work and outside obligations, sometimes I have to force myself to sit down and write for ten to fifteen minutes. I used to carry around a small journal that I started my first ever plot idea in, but I had more time to write by hand than to type, and got terribly behind.

4. What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

I get all of my writing ideas straight from my very own dreams, sometimes I wake up at super odd hours and make myself random voice notes, just to wake up the next day and realize they make no sense at all.

5. What does success mean to you? What is the definition of success?

Dictionary.com says the definition of success is “The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”

My purpose is to write; if I can write forever, even if I am the only one that reads it, I am successful.

6. Where do you get your inspiration?

Since a lot of my ideas do come to me in dreams, I imagine my inspirations come from my everyday life; a silly thing one of my daycare children say or do, a smart remark from one of my teens, a movie or show I binge-watched before bed. Possibly even way too much sugar before sleep.

7. Who is your favorite author and why?

If Cassandra Clare and Stephanie Meyers made a book baby together, I would be in heaven. I enjoy both of their writing styles so much and always look forward to new releases from them.

8. What do you like to do when you are not writing?

I run a full-time in-home daycare, raise my four children who are 5, 10, 13 and 14, cook, clean, play with my cats or dog, binge read new books and sometimes I have a cup of coffee and stare out the window for no reason what-so-ever, to help my brain relax.

9. Who is your hero?

I have three heroes, people I can only hope to be someday. Michael Bixby, my fifth-grade teacher, although I am an adult, I still remember the fifth grade, how hard and confusing it was. Mr.Bixby not only helped me through it, but encouraged me to move above and beyond it, pushing me to be the very best me I can be, and still to this day I try to live up to that standard. My father, who worked hard my entire childhood to raise me to be the person I am today and my mother, who struggled with addiction her entire life, and is over a year clean and sober today, showing me it’s never too late to change your life forever.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

Facebook is my favorite social media app. https://www.facebook.com/kortney.gallagher.56/

Instagram is also great, Instagram.com/author_Kortneyg

Nip the Naysayers

It is hard enough being a writer, sending your writing out only to receive rejection letters. But what about those around you who are critical of your passion for a career that pays little, but calls to your soul? I get criticism too. Often people tell me they see it as a hobby. It is not a hobby to me. It is my life. They don’t see it that way no matter what I tell them. I want to share some tips on how to ignore them, keep writing, and maintain your sanity.

A rejection letter is harsh. When your aunt or employment counselor chides you for not becoming a lawyer or an executive, it’s even harder. They make you grind your teeth at night and develop headaches because you feel like quitting writing just so they would be quiet. Well, take heart.

Writing, like the arts, doesn’t get much love from those who don’t see it the way we would like them too. From their perspective, it’s a dalliance, a hobby–or worse–a waste of time. To those of us who are serious, getting published in magazines or books is life or death. We love seeing our byline in a publication and are bit by the itch to get the next byline or the next publishing contract. We perfect our query letters and synopses to the best of our ability.

If you do sense you are under attack, perhaps telling people you are busy writing and closing the door to your writing studio will do the trick. Be assertive, but not overly upset and they should get the hint. We can’t change them. It is a sad fact of life, but we can change the way we respond to them. It’s not fair, but life is not fair.

Another great way to get naysayers off your back? I can think of two. One, you put honest effort in… and you are, right? Two, they see you succeeding at it. Then they will look forward to seeing your next published book or that article in the magazine you were dreaming of seeing yourself published in.

Never take the chiding or ridicule seriously. Maybe they are secretly jealous of you, seeing you reading your draft of your writing project, looking like you are not spending your time more responsibly and wishing they had the time to do what you are doing. It’s them, not you. Treat this the way you would if you got a rejection letter. File it away and keep writing. Keep writing because you are not writing for them; you are writing for you, the editors, your readers.

That’s what matters. Own it and be responsible for it. Getting angry is giving them another reason to harass you for not following your heart and work instead on an oil rig- -anything that makes “actual money!” See it from their perspective. If you follow all these suggestions, you may persuade them to see yours. They may even offer help or suggestions.

Good luck!

 

The Great Debate: FanFic

Fan Fiction. Where do you stand on the big debate? I am personally neutral on the matter, as I see the arguments to both sides, but I’m still curious. How do other writers feel about fan fiction?

By its very definition, fan fiction, or fanfic, is a written genre where canonical elements such as characters, settings, plot lines, or specific scenes from already published works are then used to create new fiction. Given this piggybacking nature of the genre, the whole concept of fanfic has stirred a great debate amongst authors, publishers, and readers as to whether or not fanfic is blatant plagiarism or a form of inspiration on which to build new work? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

On one side of the debate, there are those who are absolutely against it. And perhaps one of the biggest arguments against fanfic is that many see it as plagiarism. Most people who argue against allowing fanfic to be a thing, see it a direct rip-off of work that has already been published. There are plenty of authors, such as George R. R. Martin, who greatly despise fanfic. And I’m sure we can all see that argument, why write about someone else’s characters when you can just create your own? 

Another argument against fanfic is that it’s all just sexualized trash based off different ships. For anyone who may have forayed into a fandom to check out some fanfic, you know what I’m talking about. If you were to google Harry Potterfanfic right now, I guarantee you that 90% of it will be Harry getting it on with Ron, Harry and Hermione, Draco and Hermione, or Harry and Draco. Either way, a lot of fanfic does seem to go the way of the ships – whether they make sense or not (Adam Taurus and Blake Belladonna anyone?).

But there is a counter argument in favor of fanfic. Mostly, some people see it as a stepping stone to other, more authentic works of fiction. The best example of this in our modern day is 50 Shades of Grey. What started off as Twilightfanfic ended up taking on a life of its own. And regardless of how you feel about the series, there is no denying the massive success it experienced once the characters morphed into Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.

With that in mind, there are plenty of fanfic writers who would argue that its simply an exercise in aspiring writers to practice their development of original writing. Writers all have to start somewhere, so by using fanfic as a sort of memetic exercise, one could argue that fanfic writing allows aspiring writers the chance to better understand how to construct a work of fiction, by essentially rearranging a favorite work of theirs. This time of response shows fanfic in a more approachable light as it establishes writing not as the focus of a perfect, finished product, but rather as a process. 

So, with that in mind, the great debate continues. What do you guys as both writers and readers think? Are you in favor of fanfic? Are you against it? Or are you like me and pretty neutral on the whole thing?