Friday, September 9, 2022

Everything Happens for a Reason

World Building Tips

1. Be anti-monolith: One of the great disservices modern science fiction has done is convince some of us that worlds out there in the greater galaxy are monoliths. An ice world. A desert world. A water world. Reality is demonstrably different - and not simply because Earth has wild variation in climactic zones. Each of the worlds in the solar system demonstrate the same thing. Sure. Mars is red and dusty everywhere. But there's ice at the poles. The equator is warm. Relatively speaking. Even Mercury has wild temperature swings, from 800 degrees on the day side to -290 degrees on the night side. Of course, we can't talk about ecosystems per se, not on Mercury, but we could on Mars. If, someday, humans colonized Mars and began planting crops and trees and otherwise terraforming the Red Planet, there would be climactic zones. Plants would have to adapt or be engineered for different conditions. It's the long way of saying that while we can speak of Europa being a monolith (an ice and water moon) it's likely that most worlds are a combination of many climate types with unique and disparate ecosystems based on an evolutionary history distinct from Earth's.

2. Cultures develop in concert with the evolution of a species: Human culture developed concurrently as humans developed. As an example, caring for the dead is used as a hallmark of culture and is usually attributed to the Neanderthal about 130 thousand years ago. Recently, the discovery of Homo naledi in South Africa pushed the evidence for deliberate burial back to about 225 thousand years ago. The point being that sentient creatures being organizing into societies far earlier than most of us imagine. If a culture in your world does a particular thing, it's likely they've doing the thing far longer than you or your main characters think. It's a great point of conflict if an outsider comes in trying to change some long-held cultural activity. It's an even stronger conflict for someone within the culture to challenge long-standing tradition.

3. Culture often develops in the direction of evolution: This specifically means that when a culture adopts a practice, it is because the practice confers either sexual advantage or survival advantage. Bonus if it's both. If someone within my made up culture takes up regular bathing, they're might gain reproductive advantage because they don't smell or because keeping clean prevents infection giving them more chances to reproduce over time. Another long way of saying that in world building, everything needs to happen for a reason.

Even though the book has been out for several years, I will always recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond ( . It is the how-to book on world building because it breaks down the how earth societies and cultures developed. Why some cultures seemed to conquer the world, while other cultures sank into oblivion or where wiped out. It a very handy book in helping prompt world builders to consider how illness, domesticating animals, and developing agriculture changed the shape of humans and of human culture and at what price.

Maybe that's the final piece of world building advice: Everything has a price tag. Magic. Culture. Disrupting culture. Art. Religion. You get to decide what the price tag if for each of those. Even if you're creating your own world from scratch, the laws of physics still apply. The law of conservation of energy suggests that for every expenditure of energy for something like magic, there's an equal and opposite reaction somewhere else. You get to decide what and where.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

World Building...Don'ts

a hand holding a chioggia beet sliced in half showing the red and white alternating rings and the words World Building Layers around it

Oh man, my fellow SFF Seveners have had some excellent posts sharing their Top 5 World-Building Tips. How do I add to that??

#1: Should I craft a brand new language, a-la-Tolkien? It could be a spin off of dwarvish with a little Orc thrown in and I could put together an entire dictionary with phonetics…Wait….

#2: Maybe I’ll start with a Venn diagram of all the different types of magic in my book’s world. Similarities, differences, strengths, weaknesses, uses, taboos—which leads to a spreadsheet of who uses what and where and how along with character specific phrases and quirks that occur when they use magic. Maybe there should be colors involved, or at least a color coordinated spreadsheet, that will help when I compare my magic system to some of the classics out there…but…

#3: The classics all have history! I need to world-build with extensive history!! My characters will be able to trace their ancestry back hundreds of years. Classics always hide a spy or assassin in the ancestry, someone way-back-when that changed the tide of a monarchy—in that case I need all the details on how that monarchy was built and run, foils and successes, heroes and villains…

#4: Villain names, as well as the heroes, should have meaning that is reflected in the plot line of the story. Which means research time! There are oodles of Pinterest boards to get you in the perfect villain mood. And you like that one blue cape that has a slight silver sheen to it? Well, it’s your lucky day because there’s a shop in California that makes them and, what, there’s this Insta account that has gorgeous pictures of costumes in jaw dropping places…

#5: MAPS! How will the characters know where to go if there’s no map! There will be a current time map which connects to all the maps of the adjoining countries and all of those maps will have ancient maps because what hero doesn’t stumble upon a near-disintegrating map and have to make a calculated guess as to their current time translation….

Yeah….let’s just say Jeffe had it right when she said your book is the tip of an iceberg, not the entire iceberg. If you put the time and effort into writing the entire iceberg on paper(screen) you’ll log countless hours…and then you’ll still have to write the story. 

Don’t get bogged down, my friends! Happy Writing!

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Jeffe's Top Five Worldbuilding Tips

This week at the SFF Seven, we're sharing our top five worldbuilding tips. Since I just returned from WorldCon in Chicago, where I gave a workshop on worldbuilding from a character-driven perspective, I'm going to cheat ever so slightly and pull from that.

1. All stories require worldbuilding

Even a story set in our contemporary world, written as realistically as possible, still requires worldbuilding because it's impossible to to replicate the complexity of our world. You will always be picking and choosing relevant details. Choose wisely. (And see Tip #5.)

2. Don't allow worldbuilding to be displacement activity for writing the actual story

Worldbuilding is fun! Writing is hard. It's easy to spend tons of time on research and worldbuilding and kid yourself that it's writing. It's not. Don't become the person with megabytes of maps and details and no actual text.

3. The world is yours to shape however you like - build it to challenge your characters

Story is about characters facing conflict. The world they live in creates external conflict for them and informs their internal conflict. Since you get to play deity here, build the world with challenging your characters in mind.

4. RPGs - role-playing games can distort your worldbuilding sense.

Many creatives learn worldbuilding from gaming, which can be a great exercise, but - as dedicated gamers have pointed out (I am not one) - game worlds often don't make any internal sense. Use caution in emulating that model.

5. Use the iceberg model

While you should know - or discover - all about your world, most of that detail should be like the iceberg beneath the surface. Only the tip of all that knowledge should show up in the story. If you've done the work and your world is internally consistent, that tip of the iceberg will be representative of the rest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Lead Me Into Your World, But Don't Drown Me In It


This week we're sharing our Top 5 World-Building Tips. Firstly, ditto what Charissa suggested in Sunday's post. Secondly, since I love you, dear readers, I'll add some other tips that I've learned through rejection and correction, aka, the hard way (eyes stories that will never see the light of day...for good reasons).

1. Lead Me Slowly into The Dream: When introducing your world, particularly in fantasy and sci-fi, give the reader something real-world-relatable before rolling out your special crazy. It can be as simple as the scent of fresh bread on a breeze or the clatter of wheels on cobblestones or a pebble in a shoe. It's super tempting to dump all the "how your world is not the real world" right at the beginning because of your excitement to show the reader how amazingly different everything is. Resist. Think of the introduction like greeting a wary puppy. Show them something familiar, then, when they're comfortable, encourage them to follow you. Along the way, toss in an element of Other here and there, feeding them small bits until they're immersed. This is how you avoid info dumping your setting and overwhelming the reader. Once you have the reader's trust, they'll walk around your world with wonder.

2. For All The Suns in the Sky and Moons in the Sea: When creating your environment--as in climate, terrain, etc.-- consider the macro impacts of what you're making. Two moons in your world? How does that affect the tides? Does night last longer than day? How does that affect farming and food supply? What about light sources? Does it rain a lot or are most days clear skies? How does that affect water supply? Rivers? Seas? Transportation? Food supply? Is it windy in your world? Gentle breezes? Gales? How does that affect temperature? Circulation of fresh air? Is illness common because of stagnation? How has fashion adapted to accommodate frequent gusts? How are weapons modified so they don't blow off course?

3. The Consequences of History Live On: Whether the Great War™ was long ago or still unfolding, how does that show up in architecture? In the ways people get from Point A to Point B? In the sourcing of supplies as ordinary as underwear or as rare as magic stones? What measures of defense are so integrated into everyday life that no one questions them? Does all dinnerware come with toxin-detection coating since the groundwater was poisoned by The Enemy? What lingering scarcity remains a problem for national prosperity? Did The Enemy salt the ground? Blacken the sky? Cast a curse that no fire can exist, anywhere, ever, no matter how small? How does your world compensate for their man (or monster) made disadvantages? The consequences of your world's history should be reflected in more than the persecution of race(s) or magic(s). 

4. What Is Joy? We all know it's the small things, the minor acts that provide contentment. Too often, we the authors are so busy building conflict that we forget to demonstrate our characters experiencing joy. Happiness comes from more than interactions with other sentient characters, it also comes in private moments with nature or through connecting to The Greater Consciousness. How do people of your world experience joy? What are the minor acts? What are the great moments? What joy is personal and what is communal? What is performative and what is soul-nurturing? To balance angst, there must be joy.

5. For All The Secrets I Hold: If you're an analytical person like me, odds are you know far too many details of your world that...don't need to be mentioned in the book. Akin to character backstories that we know and readers never will, there is such a thing as TMI in world-building. Unless plumbing is plot-important, most readers don't care to know about the sewage systems. Same for the communication network of trees if your story is in space or ultra-urban. Ditto the complete pantheon when only one or two deities are involved.  

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Top 5 Worldbuilding Tips

Worldbuilding! What's in a world? A LOT. Ultimately, you can read posts like this all day, but many ideas might not come to you until you sit down and start writing. Still, there are plenty of things to think about beforehand, especially if you require a solid foundation before you start writing a story. Here are a few things that rumble around my brain when it comes to creating worlds.
  1. Think about your magic system. This one is hard for me, because I don't know all the bits and pieces of my world until I write the book. Then I go back with knowledge in-hand and revise. But you still need a general idea of the rules of your magic system, its limits and costs, and its availability across your world. Just remember that too much planning on this part can possibly create boundaries that come at an expense to the story. So a little freedom might help.
  2. Language: And I don't mean spoken language, although that's a given. In my novel, The Witch Collector, the ancient language is Elikesh. It's spoken completely different from the common tongue. It's also how the witches in my story create magick, and my heroine, who was born with the inability to speak, uses a hang language to communicate AND build her magick. So yes, language in that sense is critical to grasp. But also your story language. Consistency and uniqueness. Words that make your story YOURS and not like everything else. I have a background in history, so I pull from that knowledge for setting and word choice. I wanted my books to feel familiar and yet foreign at the same time. Word choice is so important. I can't stress it enough. Pay attention to those types of details when you read other books. They're what make a world come to life. Don't call it a glass bottle if it can be a cruet. That type of thing.
  3. History and Lore: Every culture has a history and their own lore. Consider what your world's history and lore and legends might be. A fun exercise is to sit down and put yourself in your main character's shoes and point blank ask them what their world was like 100 years ago, 500, 1000. And just free write. It's an amazing experiment. Your brain will likely give you a great background to begin with.
  4. Religion, Society, and Politics: Who worships who? Who doesn't worship at all? What is society like at large? How do people trade, source food, clothes, etc? What are the world's politics? Who rules? How do they rule? This list can be long, and again, I advise letting your creativity guide you after you have a fairly solid understanding of how the world works.
  5. Consider diversity. Writing a diverse world can be a little intimidating, because if you're like me, you don't want to do any harm. You want the world in your stories to look like the one you live in, but more so, like the world you WISHED you lived in. We CAN create worlds with cultural, sexual, and gender diversity, we just need to do it well. In my fiction, I write characters of all stripes, and I wanted to have a world where being something other than cishet isn't taboo or sinful or any other negative labels that get painted on members of the LGBTQ+ community in our everyday life. Instead, they live, love, and fight like everyone else, and everyone else thinks nothing of who they kiss or don't kiss at night. Being LGBTQ+ is part of the norm instead of the exception, and it's respected. I also color my world. And again, I don't make being white the default. If you only ever describe the skin tone of people of color, then you're actively saying that white is the default and needs no clarification. So be careful, do your research, and use sensitivity readers, but please consider diversity.
Good luck and have FUN! 

~ Charissa

Saturday, September 3, 2022

How to Keep Working Hard Rather Than Hardly Working


It’s the bane of every writer’s existence, particularly those of us with so-called “day jobs.” How do I keep writing? How do I make myself edit this draft? How do I overcome the dreaded writer’s block?

For the sake of full disclosure, I have a day-job. My day job is… also writing, although in a very different genre than what I write for “fun.” So I do write for a living, I just don’t write novels for a living. I write articles, chapters, academic monographs, and novels. I’m self-published, and my first novel came out in November 2021. My third came out in June. The fourth is due out in October.

I’ve heard all the advice in the book. “Write a little every day, even if it’s only 100 words.” “Make time to work on your writing every day.” “Set aside one or two days a week to just work on your writing.” “Find a quiet writing space.” “Play music that helps you focus.” “Don’t jump between projects.” “Jump between projects.” And my personal (least) favorite, “Just make yourself do it.”

Most of that advice is contradictory, and for good reason—brains don’t all work the same way. Try the advice, then keep what works for you and throw the rest out the window. There isn’t some magical check-list that if you tick off all the boxes you’ll suddenly find a work ethic and be productive. You have to find what works for you. Maybe that’s music, maybe it’s silence, maybe it’s podcasts or white noise. Maybe you’re a weekend writer. Maybe you get up at five in the morning, or maybe you write from dinner until bedtime, or maybe you write on-and-off all day long.

I write almost every night. I come home, shut off the day-job brain, and then write while also watching (or not watching, depending what’s on) tv with my partner. Sometimes my partner goes off to play games or work on a project, and I write then, too (usually more productively, to be honest). But if I sit down and pick up my laptop and stare at the page and just… blank? I don’t write that day. 

I think that’s the most important thing: don’t force it. If you aren’t feeling it, channel Elsa and let it go. 

And you might be thinking easy for you to say, K, you have another job, and, yeah, I do. Another job that is all about writing. I use the same basic approach for both types. Because if the words aren’t coming out, there are other things that writers do. 

Yes, we do need to generate words at some point, but there’s also the researching part of writing (whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, there’s research to be done—in fiction, this could be “reading novels” in addition to looking up whether or not, say, parachutes were invented in the late nineteenth century). One of the best ways to kickstart those writing gears is to give them words to mull over—by reading. (And the occasional binge-watch of shows or movies.)

There’s also the business of writing, whether you’re an indie author or a mainstream author. Maybe you have a website to maintain, a social media account or ten to update, or blurbs to write. Maybe you have your taxes to do or you need to network with other authors. If the words aren’t coming, you’ve got that stuff that can always be worked on, too. 

So whether it’s reading, looking up a pagan calendar or how long it takes someone to bleed out from a stomach wound, outlining, beta-reading, redrafting, checking grammar rules, working on a website, designing a cover, or spending too much time on author discords… You can still be working on your writing even when the writing part isn’t happening.

And if your biggest hurdle is that irritating little voice—or maybe not so little voice—that says “nobody will like this”… Here’s something to consider.

There is no one else who can tell your stories. No one. Only you have the mind that can create them, the heart that loves them, the soul that whispers them in the shadows of the night or the curling steam of the shower. (Why do I always think of plot points in the shower?) You are the only person who can tell your stories, so it doesn’t matter how good you think they are—because you are the only one capable of telling them at all.

So, tell them. Whether it takes you a month or a year or a decade or your whole life. You are a writer. Tell your stories.

I’ll read them.

KM Avery

KM Avery is an academic who moonlights as an author, has a partner, cats, and a deep and abiding love for books, movies, videogames, and the great outdoors—at least most of the time.

Friday, September 2, 2022

Writing Routines

 Routine and ritual are a recipe for achieving flow. Flow is that state where time and effort seem to disappear. It's where deep work happens. It isn't proof against struggling. I have a regularly scheduled writing time. 8AM every weekday morning. I show up every weekday morning and open the WIP. 

It isn't a guarantee of success, though. It's down to intention, drive, and determination. That being the case, in no way to I advocate for writing every day. I do advocate for doing what works for you. I am learning that an hour in the morning is not necessarily the best way for me to work. I need much longer stretches of time. Four hours seems to be the sweet spot. I need that much time to get immersed in my stories and characters. It really seems that my continuity sense is dependent on that much time. Because there's a day job now in the mix and the care of aging parents, this means that I have to be a weekend warrior. I use my weekday morning sessions to wrap my head around where the story is going - to make notes about what scenes I want and need so I can jump in on the weekends. 

You'd think that four hours on the weekend would be easy to come by. You'd be wrong. Turns out, my family seems to think my weekends are for chores. ALL THE CHORES. A house full of people and cats needs a ton of maintenance and upkeep. I'm the only person in the family who goes up ladders. Or who handles power tools of any size. 

Most of the time, I get around the demands of family life by getting up at 5AM and working until 9AM. I usually get two hours before anyone else in the house begins stirring. Then it's another two hours of telling people to hush up and hold whatever they want to tell me, ask me, remind me, etc until after 9AM. It's a new routine which means that the boundaries are still being tested. I'm trying really hard to stand firm. Really hard. But like Jeffe, I'm dealing with family drama - same kind she is - an aging parent who's very ill and in the hospital at the moment. We're still finding out whether this will be something the parent in question can survive. So it's possible this weekend the boundaries will crumble under the pressure. 

And you know what? Fine. 

This too shall pass and then I get back up on the horse. I suspect that's the real secret. You're a writer no matter whether you write every day or grab snippets of word count when you can. Life is going to get in the way. Persistence and coming back over and over to the page is what matters. Keep coming back.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Writing Habits and Work-Life Balance


This week at the SFF Seven, we’re discussing work ethic and asking each other what we do to keep balanced and writing regularly?

Many of you already know I’m kind of a fiend for building a writing habit. That’s because, once I stopped resisting the idea and starting doing it – by writing every day at the same time every day – that habit carried me through all sorts of difficulties.

It still does.

For example, I’m on a plane as I type this, heading to WorldCon in Chicago. I was reading a novel (Lisa Klepas, Marrying Winterborne, highly recommend!) as the plane taxied and took off. Once we reached cruising altitude, I began to feel the prodding of habit. “Time to write!” it urges. So, I pulled out the laptop to write this blog post. Then I’ll turn to my draft of Shadow Wizard, which I need to get done.

Yes, I write every (weekday) morning. That’s how I can count on getting the book done.

Last week I visited family and there were many family goings on. There was some emotional stuff to deal with, aging parents and all that involves, and it threw me for the remainder of the week. I wasn’t productive. I was feeling stressed. I’d been knocked out of my routine by life, which is the way of life. It would be nice (in theory) if I lived in some hermitage or remote villa where all days flowed by as serene as my view of the Mediterranean Sea, but I don’t. I live in a beautiful place (no ocean) and my life is relatively even and peaceful, but I’m connected to people and life happens.

By the following Monday, I was able to slide back into my writing habit like a pair of comfortable yoga pants. Morning writing was waiting for me, restoring the necessary balance. It felt good. That’s the beauty of habit – it does all the hard work for you.