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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?

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?

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.

How to Ruin Your Novel

26 Jun

Don’t Have a Plan

If you’re in the business of ruining your novel and you have a plan, scrap it. Start from scratch. Write whatever comes to your mind, as it comes to your mind. If you like to write this way anyway, be sure to never think ahead. DO NOT figure out how your novel is going to end before you get there.

No plans. Got it?

If you are a writer who will die without an outline, no worries, you can still ruin your novel. Just use the first outline that pops into your head. Don’t revise it. Don’t optimize it.

Don’t Get Feedback

If you’re trying to ruin your story, feedback is the last thing you want. Once you finish your novel, don’t send it out to friends and family. Don’t join a critique group. Just read through it once and send it off to agents.

If they happen to give you some feedback, don’t listen to it.

Do Write With Flowery Prose

Short, concise writing will be good for your novel. You should fill your sentences and paragraphs with fluff. Put in as many adjectives (better yet, adverbs) as you can manage. The more, the better.

Flowery, fat prose will do many things to ruin your novel. It will slow your pacing to a crawl. The more random junk your characters say, the less real they will sound. Your novel will be waaaay longer than it should be. Fluffy prose only has benefits as far as we’re concerned.

Do Take Long Breaks

Yeah, every writer needs breaks, but yours should be super long. I’m talking months or years. This way, when you come back to your novel, you won’t really remember what you’ve been writing, and your work will turn out disjointed. Perfect.

Writing is hard, after all. Taking long breaks will be better for your health.

Working hard on your novel only leads to publication. If you want to ruin your novel, take breaks often and make them as long as you can.

If you happen to be one of those crazy people who actually want to write a best-selling novel, just do the opposite of everything above. It’ll work.

Can you think of any other ways to ruin your novel? I’m always looking for ideas.

The Secrets of Getting Romantic Tension into Your Novel

12 Jun

Last year the romance genre generated 1.4 billion in revenue. That’s crazy huge!

Even if you’re not writing a romance, do you have a romance subplot in your novel? If you don’t, maybe you should. Quite obviously, it sells books, and having a strong romance can help you get published.

But getting romance into your novel correctly is easier said than done. How do you get your readers to yearn for your characters to fall in love, to cheer when they do?

Here are two formulas to do just that.

Love at First Sight, but it’s Impossible that it Will Work Out

Your two characters meet, look into each other’s eyes, and it’s love. Or they already know each other and secretly are in love with each other. Whatever the back story, they are attracted to each other already.

Here’s the catch. These two characters cannot be together. The better the reason is, the more your readers will be drawn to it. They will cheer, watching those two characters fighting to get together. And when they do, it will be oh so satisfying.

Here’s an example I know some of you won’t appreciate, but it has sold 116 million copies (1.3 million in one day!), so we’ve got to consider it. Edward and Bella.

They meet, and they’re both attracted to each other. The reason they can’t be together? Edward is a vampire and has some secret desires to drink Bella’s blood. Yeah, I know. It’s a little weird, but it’s perfect for creating romantic tension. Because the reason that Edward and Bella can’t be together is so strong, the reader longs for them to fall in love.

Two Characters Hate Each Other, but Slowly Come to Realize They’re in Love

Here’s the second formula. Your two characters meet and, for whatever reason, they absolutely detest each other. One is rude to the other, they’re mortal enemies, etc. Again, the stronger the reason, the more your readers will fight for them to get together.

Over the course of your story they come to realize that they love each other. When they overcome whatever was keeping them apart, readers cheer.

Here’s a perfect example – Beauty and the Beast. What are all the reasons they dislike each other? Well, the beast captured Belle’s father and then he imprisons her. On top of that, he’s an animal! This is perfect stuff for building romantic tension. We love it when they begin to change and see each other in a new light.

These two strategies can be used so many different ways in so many different scenarios. What are your favorite love stories and how did that author get it to work? Can you think of any other techniques for adding romantic tension to your novel?

How to Write Description Your Readers Won’t Skim Over

5 Jun

Why does it matter?

C’mon, let’s be honest here. How often do you skip over description? You’re reading along, you see it coming… a huge block of boring text. You skim it or jump to the next interesting looking part.

But there are reasons you should want readers to notice your description.

Description can:

  • build your setting and your world
  • add to the aesthetics of your story
  • add to your character development (yes, you read that right)

Here’s the beautiful thing about it – description can do all that at once. Here’s how:

What Great Description Isn’t

Well-crafted description isn’t long. It isn’t cliché. Because it isn’t long or cliché, it isn’t boring. Even if you’ve written the most incredible paragraph of all time, if it drags on for a page, your readers aren’t going to take the time to plow through it.

Keep it short. Keep it simple. And be original.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when describing your world. It’s your world, isn’t it? Describe it in a way that’s unique to you. Your readers will lap it up.

What Great Description Is

Here’s the real secret. Are you paying attention?

The best description is told from a character’s perspective.

This can be done no matter what point of view you’re writing from. Even in third person, you should still be focusing from the perspective of one character and writing with some of their voice.

When your character walks into a room, what do they see? More importantly, how do they see things?

Two characters could see the same vase. One might think of how perfect it would be for flowers. Another would think of how great it would be to store their stamp collection.

You’re describing the same vase, but you’re also giving a hint into character. Your readers aren’t bored, because they are interested in your characters’ habits and thoughts. They’re reading what you want them to read, they’re seeing your world, and they’re interested in it.

Any Wheel of Time fans? Robert Jordan was a master at this. The way an Aiel would describe a river is very different from the way a “wetlander” would describe the same river.

Description can make or break your story. What are some tricks that you use to work it in? What are some examples of character-based description you can think of?


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