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. 

Author Interview with Peter VanGelderen

Dragon Soul Press sat down with Author Peter VanGelderen, who has featured in DSP’s Reign of Queens and the upcoming Lethal Impact anthology.


1. Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I actually realized I wanted to be a writer later in life, after college actually. I originally wanted to pursue a career as a therapist and that’s what I went to school for. Prior to grad school, I ended up doing some revaluation, and I started writing to try it out as a new hobby. Within a week I was in love with the process and its been my passion ever since. I did attempt to write a fourth Lord of the Rings book when I was a kid, but it didn’t go so well.

2. What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?

I’ve gotten influence from many authors. George R. R. Martin and the Game of Thrones series was an inspiration in terms of character writing as well as cultivating peril and suspense. I’ve also been influenced by N. K. Jemisin, especially when it comes to narrative perspectives. Those are the two big ones, but countless others have surely been involved in the formulation of my own style.

3. What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?

I would actually prefer two, sort of a devil-and-angel-on-the-shoulder situation. On one, I’d want Douglas Adams for crafting one-liners and nuggets of witty wisdom. On the other, J. R. R. Tolkien, as he’d have insight on extensive world-building and detail-oriented writing. Plus, I think it’d be pretty great to hear them debate all day. 

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

I am a sucker for an animal companion and all media that include one, so I love to add animal friends big and small to any story I can. Whether or not the animal is a typical pet, a massive lizard monster, or anything in between, doesn’t matter. I will almost always give them the personality of a dog or cat, though, especially if they are a giant lizard monster.

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

When not writing, usually during my evenings, I often turn my brain off with video games. After spending all day writing narratives, I prefer to do something not so narrative-heavy. That way I can just let reflexes and chaotic whims take over so I can relax. I do usually watch plenty of shows and read books before bed, though. Other than that, I am often petting my cat or playing DnD.

6. How many books have you written? Which is your favourite?

As of right now, I only have one completed book. It doesn’t have a name yet, one hasn’t come to me, but it features a massive expedition into a giant area of wild and dangerous nature. I’m very much looking forward to getting it published at some point, but I’m not sure how long that process will take. I have begun another and have been working on it for a few months, but it’s still very much in the beginning phases.

7. Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw any inspiration I can from anything around me. Naturally, I take inspiration from any book I read, and building on that, any show or movie I watch. Games, songs, and musicals also are fair game. I’ve certainly watched my cat interact with the world and used it to describe animal behavior, it’s the same with my parents’ dogs and any other animal I see. Sometimes, I’ll take the few bits and pieces from my weird dreams that make sense and try to utilize them. I find that the variety helps a lot with keeping things interesting.

8. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

Goofy, Caring, Kind. (This was given by my girlfriend, as this one actually stumped me a little)

9. Who is the author you most admire in your genre?

Once again, I’m breaking the rules a little bit and including two. First off is J. R. R. Tolkien, as his work ethic and ability to build a massively complex world from scratch. That’s an amount of drive that I can only hope to achieve. Another important one is N. K. Jemisin, who isn’t afraid to be heavy-handed when including real issues that society needs to address. Her portrayal of oppression comes from a true knowledge of real-world problems and she has no fear when it comes to shining a giant, blazing light on subjects many others may only dance around.

10. Where can readers learn more about you?

The best place to get info about me is on my author Facebook page, @PeterVanGelderenBooks. On there I have all my basic info, as well as links to my published works.

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

Grow Your Following

We live in an age when technology is pretty much a part of our everyday lives. Just look at social media – it is so integrated into our lives. We don’t just use social media as a place to post pictures of our pets or our homemade bread, it’s also where we search for jobs, build business connections, and promote our business. Small businesses and creatives rely on social media as a platform to get their goods and services out there. 

That is why, as writers, it makes sense that many of us would turn to social media for help. Whether we’re self-published authors, or authors seeking a traditional publishing deal, we need social media. There is no two ways about it – the days of making it as a writer with no social media presence are over. 

I have a friend who is a literary agent, and prior to meeting him, I was under the impression that social media wasn’t that big of a deal. I assumed that if the writing was good, you could get published no problem. Boy, was I wrong. Agents and publishers alike look at your social media following. While good writing is important, what they really are interested in, is marketing. Do you have enough followers to make it worth their while? If you have a big enough following, publishers see that as a built-in audience already sorted. So, how many followers should you aim for? 10k. Most of us don’t have anywhere near that many followers. So, the next logical step would be to grow your numbers. But how do you do that? 

Here are some tips:

Focus Your Energies: The two platforms that you really want to grow a base on, are Twitter and Instagram. Twitter has a HUGE writing community, and it’s a great place to connect with other writers and get yourself out there. Likewise with Instagram, it’s nearly like a Twitter with pictures, so it’s a great place to post promotional pictures of your book, or to drum up interest in your work-in-progress by posting inspirations and sneak peeks to get people excited about your work. And both platforms work on a follow-for-follow basis, so just go on a following spree and gain people along the way.

Use Hashtags Strategically: Hashtags are great for Instagram posts to be seen by people who aren’t following you, meaning you can potentially gain more followers by posting with hashtags. But the key is to know which ones to use. In order to find the more popular ones you can take a quick look through #bookstagram or #writersofinstagram in order to see what other hashtags people are using. Additionally, your favorite writers that you follow can also be a great place to start looking. Speaking of which…

Do Your Homework: Following your favorite authors are a good idea. You can learn a lot from looking at pages of successful authors. Take note of the more popular content, which kinds of tweets or pictures gain the most attention? How do they represent themselves? In short, what is their brand? Obviously, you are your own brand, but what can you do to help yourself figure out how to build yourself up is to look and learn. 

Run Giveaways: Another great way of building up your following, this strategy also helps you do some promotion of your book as well. You can give away signed copies of your books as well as merch too – commissioned drawings, maps, book marks – all things related to your brand that can get your name out there are great ideas for giveaways. Plus, they also present an opportunity to team up with other authors for joint giveaways and promotions as well. 

Get engaged: Even if you’re not running a giveaway or going on a following spree, you can still use your posts to engage followers. Make sure your posts are something that your followers can connect with. For example, if you’re posting about a writing session in your favorite coffee shop, make it an opportunity to drum up a conversation by asking your followers where they like to write, where their word count is at, etc. Similarly, don’t be afraid to leave a comment on someone else’s post if you admire what they shared. Sometimes simple, friendly engagements with others in the community can get you a new follower or two – and every follower counts!

Don’t Buy Followers: So, you may be sitting here thinking if publishers want to see at least 10k followers on your social media then what is the harm in spending a few extra dollars and getting a mass of new followers in a few hours? Well, there is no such thing as a free lunch. While buying followers might get you numbers it doesn’t get you engagement. Fake followers won’t like your posts, buy your books, or retweet your tweets. Publishers want to see that your 10k following is an engaged one, meaning you grew them organically. While it might take a while to build yourself on social media, it’ll be worth it in the end when you can say you achieved numbers organically. 

So, with many of us probably starting somewhere below 1,000 followers on either Instagram or Twitter, it might seem a little daunting. And I’m not going to lie, it is a little daunting to think that we’ve got a long way to go building up our social media following. But, if we want to be successful writers then we need to grow with the times. And, in the words of Li Shang, “Let’s get down to business…”

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.