How to Build Your Setting like a Pro

13 Nov

Too many writers don’t realize that the setting of your world plays a HUGE role in the success of your story. Even if your setting is present day, present time, it is still a major player and needs to be developed.

Here’s the thing that many of us, even those who understand the importance of setting, don’t get. The first time I heard this, it blew my mind.

Focusing on every aspect of your world is the worst thing you can do to make it real.

Crazy, huh? You’d think that since the real world is so complex and full, you’d want your setting to mimic that. The problem here is that our world is too complex and too full, so when we try to replicate that we hopelessly fail. Writers who try end up touching briefly on a million different aspects of their setting, never fully developing or delving into anything. They get a setting that feels like the shell of a real one.

When you’re developing your setting, choose two or three parts of it and make them AWESOME. The food, the magic, the plants, the language – something needs to stand out with real depth and creativity. If you try to make every part of your world unique and intricate, you will fail. I promise.

I usually pick one or two aspects of my physical world and one or two of my cultural world. Here’s a list of a few things to get you thinking about what you can focus in on:

Physical World: Think about things like your magic system (if you’ve got one), the landscape and geography of your world, plants and animals, weather, astronomy. The list is pretty much endless.

Let’s go back to Harry Potter here, since J.K. Rowling nailed her setting. Her magic system is an obvious one. How many of us who’ve read the books or seen the movies haven’t memorized spells like “alohamora” or “expelliarmus”? Think about the physical landscape of Hogwarts, too. She made the hallways move, the portraits talk, the whomping willow whomp. There are many examples of how she chose a few things and developed them really well, made them really unique.

Cultural World: Here think about the technology, religion, races, customs, history, language, castes, government, gender roles, food, dress, occupations. Again, the list goes on and on.

The food is definitely something that Rowling chose to make shine. You’ve got chocolate frogs, butterbeer, every flavor beans, licorice wands, and all the food that appears in the Great Hall. She appealed to our senses, really delved deep, and made this aspect of her setting stand out.

Now remember:

Don’t Overload. Look over the list above and choose one or two things for your physical world and one or two for your cultural world. Make them players in your story. Push the boundaries here. If your setting is in our world, choose things you want to highlight rather than make up.

Setting is a crucial and often overlooked part of your writing. What are techniques you’ve found to develop and incorporate it?

J.K. Rowling’s #1 Reason for Success

9 Oct

What makes J.K. Rowling such an incredible success?

Was it her lovable characters? Her throat-gripping plots?

Nope. Though these things played a role, by themselves they are not the answer. What was that special something that made her books a phenomenon?

She created a world you want to live in.

Read that again. It may change your writing career.

Why does everyone LOVE Harry Potter? So much that people buy wands and robes, candy has been made to mimic the Harry Potter sweets, and there’s a theme park called Harry Potter world.

Yeah. I want to go, too.

Everyone wants to taste butter beer and every flavor beans. Who doesn’t want to join in on a game of Quidditch? Seriously. And personally, I wouldn’t mind sitting down to the Hogwart’s dinner table every day.

These are just a tiny piece of everything that Rowling created to make her world real and inviting. Readers return to her books for the plot and characters, yes, but mostly to jump back in to her world.

So how can we harness this secret? Here are a few ways to make the world of your story (fantasy or not) a place your readers want to return to.

Make it Real

Whatever you do, your world must be real. It has to jump off the page. Whether you’re making up stuff like Rowling or setting the stage in a real place, make your world vivid. If your reader can’t picture it, they won’t want to return to it.

Another part of keeping it real is keeping it consistent. Your reader should be able to follow the rules of your world, and you must stay within them once they’re established.

Make it Unique

Make your world different! Brooms and wands have all been done before, but never with the level of detail that Rowling put into them. The different brands of brooms and wands felt real, and it was different than what had been done before. Make your world stand out.

A great way to do this is just to sit down and brain storm. Keep a document of all your world-building ideas.

Make it Interesting

Rowling immersed us in her world and opened our eyes in wonder. Think of all the gadgets the Weasley twins sell in their shop. They all do interesting things, and many of them come to play in the story. Do the same with your world. Get out your brainstorming document or notebook and make your world interesting, a place that real people wouldn’t mind exploring for a while.

Rowling’s world is brilliant. Seriously, how many “boy goes to wizard school” books have been done? It’s her world that set her books apart, that propelled her into practically overnight success. Take her example and develop your world! This will take you time. I guarantee you Rowling spent hours crafting hers, but it is so worth it.

What are some techniques you use to world-build? Do you have any useful tools to help your brain get going?

The Writing Website that Changed My Life

25 Sep

Today’s post is simple – I’m going to direct you to the blog that totally changed the way I think about story. Once I stumbled across this site, it was like my writing eyes were opened.  People pay money to take writing classes. I’m telling you, this site is free and has better information!

Here it is.

Check it out. Browse around. And subscribe! I promise this will boost your writing. Here are some of my favorite articles:

Introducing the Four Parts of Story

Characters – How to Make Your Readers Love ’em Instead of Leave ’em

Drumroll… Introducing the Six Core Competencies of Successful Storytelling

If you don’t do anything else, read these. It could change your writing life!

What writing websites have given you a leg up? I would love to check them out!

One Simple Trick to Get Emotion into Your Writing

11 Sep

Hey, everyone! Sorry I’ve been missing for the past two weeks. If there’s any excuse, I came down with a really bad cold and we MOVED! So it’s been crazy lately, but I’ve got a post for you today that I’m really excited about, so hang tight.

We’re going to be talking about getting emotion into your writing. We all want our readers to feel something. So how do we do this?

First off, watch these two short videos. I promise it will be worth your time. Ever seen Phantom of the Opera? Here’s the first clip. Watch from 1:30 to 1:50.

Now watch this one. It’s another version of the same scene. Watch from 8:40 to 9:20.

I don’t know about you, but I love the second version. The first one’s great, don’t get me wrong, but I love the power and emotion that this second version conveys.

Today were going to talk about one simple trick to getting this power, to make your readers cry and laugh and gasp.

What’s that trick? Use your words wisely.

If you’ve got your story in place, it will be your words that make all the difference. In movies, it’s how the characters deliver their lines. Your characters can do the same thing.

Check out this example.

“No.” He said.

Okay, that’s one way. Let’s look at how we can change it just a little.

“No!” He screamed, falling to his knees.

In the second one, how he says what he does skyrockets the tension. The way your characters act, how they say what they do, that is what’s going to get tension and emotion into your writing.

Let’s look at another example with a different kind of emotion.

“I’m so happy for you.” She said.

Okay, that was all right, but here’s another way to modify that sentence.

“I’m so happy for you.” She said, her lips drawn in a tight smile.

Emotion in that second sentence is much more powerful, because now the reader can pick up that she doesn’t really mean what she’s saying.

You see what I’m talking about? The power that your words can have? Modifying your sentences like this, showing the emotion on your character’s face during dialogue, that is what’s going to add emotion and tension into your scenes.

How have you used this technique? What examples can you think of?

Is this Agent Reputable? Do I Really Need an Agent?

21 Aug Is this agent reputable? Do I really need an agent?

This is the last post in the literary agent series, and here you can read about query letters and finding an agent if you missed them.

So first off, how do you know if an agent is reputable? There are a lot of scammers out there. Luckily for us, there are some simple things that a reputable agent will NOT do and some things that they WILL do that will tell you they’re the real deal.

A reputable agent will not:

  • Charge a reading fee: If an agent asks you for money before they’ll read your book, run! They will take your money and say no to your project, because they’re not really an agent.
  • Refer you to an editorial service that charges a fee: Some scammers will say that they love your work, but it needs a little help. If you send it to this editor and pay for them to work on your book, then the agent will represent you. Don’t fall for this! Good agents will not ask for your money at all. Basically, if the agent mentions a fee, get out of there.

A reputable agent will:

  • Earn their money by taking 10 to 20% of your book sales: Real agents will take a small percentage of everything that your book makes. This will be 10 to 15% for home sales and usually 20% for foreign sales.
  • Sometimes be a member of AAR (Association of Authors’ Representatives): This is an association that agents can join that says they’ve agreed to respect your rights. Be aware that not all good agents are a part of this, so don’t say no to them just because there’s no AAR stamp on their profile.

Now, do you really need an agent? You decide. Here’s everything an agent will do:

  • Get your book in front of publishers: Many of the best publishers won’t even look at your book unless an agent puts it in front of them. So if you want a medium to big name publisher, you need an agent.
  • Auction your book: A book auction is where your agent goes to a bunch of publishers and tries to get the best deal with the biggest advance for you. You can’t do that for yourself. Plus, your agent will already have contacts in the publishing business that you don’t have.
  • Negotiate for your sub rights: Agents will battle with the publisher to get you the best contract, retaining as many of your sub rights as possible. Sub rights can make you a lot of money! These are film, audio, sometimes even foreign sales.
  • Keep track of the publishing process: Your agent will follow up on payments and bug publishers until the money comes in. They will keep track of key dates, make marketing plans with you and your editor, and basically mediate between you and the publisher in your interest. This is huge!

If that hasn’t convinced you, I seriously don’t know what will. Agents are awesome. Next week, on to a new topic!

Where Can I Find an Agent? Is this Agent Right for Me?

14 Aug Where can i find an agent? How do I know if this agent is right for me?

Tough questions. Let’s look at the answers!

So, first off, where can you find an agent? These are three fantastic resources.

  • Literary Agent Undercover: This link will take you a list of the top fifty agencies. Once you’ve got the perfect query, start at number one. You never know if you’re going to be accepted or rejected unless you try!
  • Agent Query: This is sort of like an agent search engine. You type in your genre and a number of other factors and it will give you a huge list of agents that fit your needs who are looking for new clients.
  • Writer’s Conferences: These places are crawling with agents! Attend as many as you can, and have a short spiel about your book prepared. You’ve already written your query, so just put it into spoken form, and keep it short. If the agent is interested, they’ll ask you to send them more. When send your stuff, be sure to mention that they met you and requested your work. Goodbye, slush pile!

Once you get that magical call from an agent who wants to represent you, how do you decide that they are really the right one for you? It’s soooo tempting to just say yes, but there are some big, red warning signs you should watch out for. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.

  • Warning Sign #1: Your personalities clash. Talk to them over the phone and get to know them a little. Do they seem like someone you could work with long term?
  • Warning Sign #2: The agent is a noob. New agents will have a teeny tiny client list and next to zero experience. Don’t say yes to them. They do not have the connections you need to succeed at publishing.
  • Warning Sign #3: The agent has a bajillion clients. They like your work, so they’ll say yes just so they can stick it on their shelf and come back to it when they have time.
  • Warning Sign #4: Do they have a plan for submitting your book to publishers? If the answer is vague or just a flat out no, a red flag should be waving in your brain.

What resources have you used to find agents? What other questions can you think of to ask when an agent offers representation?

How to Write a Kick-Butt Query Letter

7 Aug how to write a query letter

Ok, guys. Here’s how the next few weeks are going to go.

Today we’re talking about query letters – that was the most popular question from the agent poll. (If you didn’t get a chance to put in your two cents, now is the time!) Next week we’ll talk about where to find an agent and how to know if an agent is right for you. Then we’ll touch on how to tell if an agent is reputable and whether you really need an agent.

Alrighty! Let’s get on to query letters.

A query letter has to tell an agent in three paragraphs what your story is about, and it’s got to blow their mind. Here’s how to do that.

Part One: the Opening

Start with “Dear ‘agent’s name’”. It’s tempting to send out a mass email to tons of agents, but agents like to know that you want them. (It is ok to send out query letters to multiple agents – just don’t do it in the same email. I know, I know. It’s a pain.)

Then in a sentence or two tell them the title, genre, and word count of your novel, and let them know that the complete manuscript is available. These are all things they’ll want to know before they even consider your story.

Part Two: the Meat

Time to sum up your book. You will not be able to tell them everything about your story, so focus in on what makes it unique and interesting. Try writing three or four summaries, each highlighting a different aspect of your novel, and see which one works best.

Leave them hanging. A query letter is not a synopsis, so you don’t necessarily have to tell them the end. Make them want to read more.

Write your summary in present tense, third person. DON’T deviate from this, no matter how much you want to. Agents are used to reading query letters in this format.

Keep the number of characters and new names you introduce to a minimum, 3 to 4, never over that. Let’s not confuse the agent.

Use an appropriate tone for your genre. Show them that you know how to write! Your query should use a voice like the tone of your book. If you’re worried about this with the present tense, third person thing, write your query letter in first person in the voice of one of your characters. Then go back and switch all the pronouns and things so that it’s in third person.

Part Three: the Ending

Now you’ve just got to tell the agent of any writing experience you have. I know this is tough, especially for first-time authors. Keep in mind that this section doesn’t have to be long or impressive. Your story is the most important factor in catching an agent’s attention.

Highlight any writing education you have. Got a writing degree? If not, I’m sure you’ve taken some writing classes. You can also mention any other education you’ve got that will pertain to your story. You have a character who’s a doctor, and you’ve got a PhD? Add that. If not, leave it out! They won’t care what education you have if it doesn’t have to do with your story.

Talk about any contests you’ve won and any previous publications you’ve had. Have you published a short story? Have you self-published?

To close, say why you think this agent would be a good fit for your story. Mention that you’ve looked at their site and know that they are looking for books in your genre.

Last, thank them for their time.

This is a little scary for me, but below is my query letter that I’m sending out to agents right now. Take a look at it. See how I’ve put these things into practice. Please comment with your suggestions!

Dear (Agent’s Name),

Bonded is a YA Sci-Fi, complete at 52,000 words. The full manuscript is available upon request.

Shalayn and Heem were born Bonded, linked telepathically, something that’s never happened before. No one can figure out why.

They’re going to the school where people learn to make the Bond, since they want to get better at using it. The only thing is, normally people make the Bond when they graduate, where they choose their Bonding partner and… marry them.

Heem and Shalayn aren’t married, of course, but when everyone else who’s Bonded is married… it’s not exactly easy for them to make friends.

Shalayn doesn’t know if she has to marry Heem or what. Plus, there’s this really cute guy in one of her classes.

Sometimes Shalayn wonders if she might be more popular… more accepted… if it wasn’t for Heem. She feels terrible for thinking that, and she has to keep those thoughts buried down deep so they never slip through the Bond.

What would Heem think if he knew Shalayn had a crush on another guy?

And then there’s Enemar Melevrin. He’s not Bonded, but he can do everything someone who’s Bonded can and more. He can take over people’s minds and turn them to his side or stop their heart. And he just escaped from prison.

Enemar hates the Bonding school, and he’s going to try to get revenge. When Enemar finds out that Shalayn and Heem are Bonded at such a young age, he begins to wonder if they might be the only ones powerful enough to stop him.

They are his next targets.

I took a writing course from Brandon Sanderson, #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author, who critiqued parts of Bonded. He loved the voice and the characters, and I hope you enjoy them, too. Bonded is a stand-alone novel but has series potential.

I feel that Bonded would fit well with you since you like YA and science fiction. Thank you so much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.


Jessica Flory

Everything You Wanted to Know About Agents

31 Jul

Lately I’ve been trying to find an agent, and, man, it’s hard! There are so many things to think about, so many things to research. I’ve been doing a TON of work to figure this out, and I want to make things easier for you.

That’s why I’m going to be writing a series of posts all about helping you find an agent.

So, I want to know where you’re at. What questions do you have that you’re dying to have answered? Do me this favor, and make it easier for me to help you!

Tell me which of the questions below you most need answered.


Please, comment below if you have any other questions or suggestions. Thanks for your help, everyone!

Why Life-or-Death isn’t the Best Character Conflict – and What Is

24 Jul Life-or-Death Character Conflict

Characters Need Conflict

We torture them, make them fall off cliffs – it’s all part of an exciting plot. So wouldn’t it seem like your character running for their life would be the best conflict you can get? Nope!

Life-or-death is not the type of struggle that will resonate most with your readers. It is not the struggle that will keep them turning pages. This comes as a surprise to many authors, but it’s true.

Here’s the reason why – there is nothing in a life-or-death struggle that actually ties to the character. Anyone can be facing a life threatening situation. It has nothing to do with the character’s inner self, and there’s no growth that comes of it. The character leaves from the fire, they barely survive. It’s exciting, but the character hasn’t changed.

What is the Most Important Conflict?

For a struggle to be truly riveting, to be emotionally powerful to your readers, it has to impact the character’s inner self. Readers want to be caught up in your characters. They want to relate to them, to feel like they’re real people. The best way to do this is to give your character an internal struggle. Everyone goes through inner turmoil, so when a character does, we relate.

You see the difference between that and a character who just fights for their life?

When your character struggles to overcome their flaws or something from their past that’s holding them back, that is the most important struggle they can have. Whenever your character’s goals are inhibited by something within themselves that the character has to overcome, that is when your readers will cheer.

An Example

Let’s look at an example of this in The Hunger Games. The life or death situation is an integral part of the plot. But Katniss’ struggle in being able to love Peeta – that is what kept us reading. The question of whether she will be able to put aside all of her inhibitions to pretend to love Peeta, when he really does love her, is the struggle that we were most interested in. That was the struggle that added complexity to her character and made her feel real.

So, yes, life-and-death struggles are important for your plot, but character struggles are what will make your book stand out.

What are your ideas? What struggles do you make your characters face? Let us know in the comments!

Also, pop on over to to read my guest post – “Four Ways to Fall in Love with Writing (Again)”.

3 Surprising Story Killers – and How to Avoid Them

17 Jul

Man, I just finished reading a book that looked like it would be good – but it was awful. The basic plot was interesting, so I was trying to figure out what had killed it. There were three main things I came up with that we all need to watch out for.

Fake Dialogue

Many things the characters said did not feel real at all. They used big words and strange expressions, things that people don’t really say. I’ll admit, dialogue is a hard thing to nail, and it takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth getting down.

Compare these two sentences:

  • “When it rains outside, I do not wish to go out. However, sometimes I need to.”
  • “Rain sucks! I wish I didn’t have to go out in it, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.”

You see the difference? Dialogue also depends on your character’s voice and age. Maybe your character really does talk like the first sentence! But probably they don’t.

If you’re thinking that dialogue is something you need to brush up on, listen to people talk. It’s okay to steal words from them. Another great thing to do is read your dialogue out loud. You’ll be able to catch things that don’t sound real.

Unrealistic Situations

Here’s the second thing that really bothered me – many things that happened to the characters weren’t realistic. The situations the characters got into didn’t feel like they would really happen under the rules the author had set up.

Let me give you an example all of us know pretty well. The plot’s moving along, you’re caught up in the mystery, wondering what’s going on. Then you find out – it’s aliens.

The author uses a copout ending to explain everything! The reason it’s annoying is because nothing the writer did set this up to be a satisfying ending.

Watch for this in your novel, because it can be hard to detect. The easiest way to make sure that your audience swallows everything you’ve written is to foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow. Yes, you don’t want to make every plot turn obvious, but you don’t want to make them totally random either.

Bad Motivations

In this novel, the characters were motivated by things I didn’t connect with at all. I didn’t understand where the characters were coming from or why they were doing but they were doing.

It was especially a problem with the side characters and antagonists. It’s not too difficult to give your main character something realistic that they want – freedom, a better life, love. These all work well. But when an antagonist’s only goal is world domination… That’s a warning sign. We are all motivated by deeper things, even bad guys.

The easiest way to see how you’re doing here is to have someone who will give you honest feedback read over your story, looking for this in particular.

Do you see the connection between these three? They all kicked the reader out of the story, all made it seem less real. Don’t do that your readers.

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