Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

Look Who’s Back – It’s Mé!

To quote the infamous Aaliyah and her partner Timbaland, “It’s been a long time…shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to, step to, step to, step to…” I know it’s been a while since my last post my family, and I have missed you guys so much. However, I promise that it’s all happened with good reasons. I have tons of new great things to tell you to help you on your writing journey. So keep hanging with me, please family!

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First of all, for those of you who don’t know, I own and operate The Writers’ Block, a literacy and tutoring company based in Charleston, SC. I am a professional, private tutor and workshop presenter. This summer has seen a significant increase in new clients and new opportunities to work with various organizations into the coming school year, so organizing my time (yikes!) has been hectic, to say the least. Along with the obvious (getting paid to do what I love to do for free!), another great thing about this change is that it’s brought new writing and publishing clients my way. I will soon be embarking on the perilous and beautiful road of ghostwriting.

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Now, some of you may be wondering. Why ghostwriting MéShelle? You are already a published poet with a new book set to release this year. (I promise…it is coming. And the wait has been worth it!) Plus, you’re working on your first YA fantasy, fiction novel with all those amazing female character story arcs you plan to write about in your next blog post. (I know I’m reaching with the audience voice here….humor me.) Why….I’m glad you ask.

The truth:

1. It’s an amazing opportunity to help someone tell their story of survival and positive manifestation. This new client wants to encourage others to live a full life and to teach them how to navigate the rough waters of abuse, depression, and isolation through an engaging, powerful true story. I am ALL about that. This individual has waited years to find the right partner and finally built up the courage to open up about things that have never been said or previously publicized. This is the point of being a writing coach and ghostwriter for me: help others find their voice. Then help them share their story…because we all need it.

2. There’s money in it. Let’s be honest. Until you hit it big, win some great contests, get a fellowship, or build a loyal fan base, the life of an author is fulfilling but not always lucrative. Ghostwriting is a great way to make extra cash while still honing one’s abilities. Plus, you learn how to write in someone else’s voice and see from a new perspective. This type of work challenges you as a writer because it is not your story to tell. You are merely a vehicle for someone else’s words and experiences. Every writer cannot handle this. For those that can, it presents a key opportunity to learn some new tricks and reach some new personal depths. As a fiction author, I am particularly excited because, to my characters, their lives are nonfiction. I want to experience the differences and inherent sensibilities that come with this type of work. And get paid. Did I mention that part? GET PAID.

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This is actually very important to talk about, so I am glad that you brought it up. Let’s talk about being paid to write. For those of us in love with this passion, isn’t that a goal, a dream, a wish for yourself at some level? However, it is unfortunate to note that there are many writers in the world not living their dream. They love writing, are good at it, and are not getting paid for it? Why? It has nothing to do usually with the amount of talent or even opportunity. They are simply not asking for it.

Many of you have built up in your head this belief that your writing isn’t good enough or you’re not in it for the money. However, if you have a gift or passion, but you cannot pursue it because your time also has to be spent funding the food on the table, then you are kidding yourself. Why not get paid to do what you love to do for free? I promise…it does NOT take away from the passion or the purity of it. As a matter of fact, the financial gain can often give you more impetus, resources, and opportunity to pursue further education and training in this craft. It does not make you a cheat or a “sell-out.” It makes you someone who chooses a life of freedom over enslavement to a job that doesn’t fulfill you.

It doesn’t start off easy. Trust me. But there is no time when it is not worth it.

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Plus, in this digital age, it does not take a whole lot to make your at-home, writing services business lucrative. (More tips on that coming in the next couple of posts, ok!)

So, yea….do it for the love. But don’t miss out on the money. If you’re not sure what to ask for…Google it. There are a TON of average price points for every kind of service at every sort of level. You’d be surprised how much you can get just by asking and having confidence in your own abilities.

Well, that’s what I have for you today. It’s great to be back you guys. I am so excited to start pumping out tips and tricks for you. As usual, leave a comment below. Tell me what’s new with you since I’ve been gone and where you are on your latest writing project. What kind of posts about writing or digital marketing would you like to see? I’ll do my best to get you the quality answers you need.

And as always,

I can’t wait to read what you’re writing!

 

P.S.

Don’t forget to subscribe the mailing list! I promise I don’t spam…I also promise that you’ll get the good stuff! ;P

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Creating Your Perfect Story Arc, Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

The Write Way to “Show; Don’t Tell!”

Have you ever had a writing coach/professor or perhaps an editor/publisher tell you something like this: “Good writers tell the reader what’s happening, but [great] writers show the reader?” Most of us have, and, if you’re like me the first time I heard it, you may have held back a cacophony of expletives. What does that old adage, “show; don’t tell,” mean? And what, if anything, does it have to do with the elementary school tradition of bringing your puppy or a cool seashell from the beach to school?

Let’s keep it simple:

The puppy and the seashell have something in common. They’re powerful visuals. Students can absolutely fumble their way through the “Mommy said YES to the puppy” speech or where they found the shell, but the honest truth is that by showing the class their puppy and seashell, the other students were able to fill in most of the blanks and tell themselves the rest of the story.

Keynote: To show in writing means to use strong imagery and effective scenarios so that audiences don’t require much narrative to fill in the blanks.

Example:

Telling: Elizabeth was sad, therefore uninterested in conversation with her friends.

ShowingElizabeth did not make any of her usual stops on the way to her desk this morning. She bypassed Tom’s raised hand, ignored Mary’s offer for raspberry donuts, a first, and cut straight through the advertising team without joining them for a customary Monday cup of Joe. When she sank down at the computer, Elizabeth hoped no one noticed the one tear escaping her eye.

There’s a stark contrast, right? The same information is conveyed in both examples. However, one of them is stronger and more engaging, which is always your goal. Let’s notice that showing took a much higher word count, 10 words as opposed to 59!

Be aware that “showing” often requires the use of more expressive language, so it will generally not help you cut from a story that is too long. However, it can be the magic maker when your project doesn’t have enough words.

 

CAUTION: Even though writers hear this particular literary critique often, please be careful. The unspoken truth that many other writing coaches and editors don’t want to tell you is that “showing” can make your work drag. You never want to make your reader feel like they’re wasting time. Sometimes brevity is just as, if not more engaging, than verbosity. So, there are times when I encourage you to get to the point.

Example:

Telling: Elizabeth hated Monday and all the crazy that came with it.

ShowingElizabeth knew it was the detestable first day of the work week by the way her alarm clock seemed so much louder than on other days and further away from her previously resting form. Once she’d silenced the menace, she sat up in bed and contemplated calling in sick from work so she could avoid all the cat-callers at the construction site in her neighborhood, the weird religious nut who rode her train every morning, and the annoying new assistant at her job who jabbered on until lunch.

 

This type of mellifluous prose sounds pretty, but it is not adding to the story. If these minor details are important enough for me to want to convey them to my readers, then I can show these details in action as my character moves throughout the day, or I can add them in as I write over time. Writing over time is the art of creating time progression in your piece. When done masterfully, it can allow you to slip in little details about your characters without throwing them at the reader all at once. It is a great tool for showing appropriately and telling moderately.

How do you learn how to write like that? Easy! I keep a checklist: Verbs, Adverbs, Characters/Dialogue, Setting. These are the 4 key places most writers can focus on to improve their “showing” and “telling.”

 

STRONG, SPECIFIC VERBS:

Rule 1: Choose the right verb for the right sentence. There are so many ways to express an action in English. Sometimes the easiest method to “show” versus “tell” comes just by choosing a more specific form of the verb you’ve already written.

Example:

Telling:    The dog ate his bone.

Showing: The dog devoured his bone. 

                  The dog nibbled his bone.

                  The dog gorged on his bone.

You can immediately tell the difference. Sometimes the fastest way to improve your writing is to just grab your closest thesaurus and jump in!

 

ADVERBS ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS:

Rule 2: Use adverbs as a last resort. I guarantee that every show and tell slipup is connected in some way to adverb use. I, too, like the occasional modifier for verbs (not so much for my adjectives). However, most editors frown upon adverbs because they are rendered unnecessary by Rule 1. Correct verb choices often limit the need for adverbs. It also helps to give the reader a scene or situation that illustrates the moment being described.

Example:

Telling:    Her heart beat steadily with fear. 

Showing: Her heart quaked with fear. Each time she opened her mouth, shallow breaths stuttered in and out. Her palm was sweaty, so the microphone in her hand didn’t have a chance. Therefore, it came as no surprise when the poor girl ran offstage.

 

LET YOUR CHARACTERS/DIALOGUE DO THE WORK:

Rule 3: Use your characters’ unique voices to evoke emotion from readers. Every feeling and detail does not require explicit explanations for readers to understand your meaning or gain depth. There is a lot of information that can be expressed through character actions and interactions as well as dialogue. Allow your characters to bring us into their story.

Example:

Telling:    It was obvious to Brian that Emilia and Jarvis were an item, or at least used to be, and the atmosphere of the room became subtly discomforting as they exchanged passive-aggressive pleasantries. Brian wanted to crawl out of his skin in his desire to get out of there as quickly as possible.

Showing: Brian looked between the two, wondering if this was what Alex had tried to warn him about. He cleared his throat, “So, now that we’re here–“

                  “That’s a nice jacket,” Emilia cut Brian off without taking her eyes off of Jarvis. Her lips lifted at the corners, but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.

                 “Thanks. It was a gift.” Jarvis didn’t bother with the smile.

                 “Interesting,” she replied, “From Belgium, I presume?” It sounded more like a statement.

                 “No. Morroco.”

                “I thought you’d never been to Morroco.” Her tone might have been sharper than she’d intended. Her lips flipped in the other direction.

                “Not with you.” Jarvis’s smile did come to his eyes.

               “Well! Look at the time!” Brian pulled his sleeve over an empty wrist and tripped over his shoelaces trying to grab the doorknob. “It’s been a great meeting everyone. Same time next week!”

SET THE SCENE:

Rule 4: Let your setting say more than you do. Think about how you can utilize the five senses in your story and try to draw them out as much as possible. Don’t simply describe the scene; take us there with you. Reveal to the reader what you see; play the sounds you want them to hear; and give them a sweet or sour taste in their mouth from having visited.

Example:

Telling:    It was a dark and stormy night as Allison made her way to the castle.

Showing: Allison no longer felt the shivers traveling through her long cloak. Everything from the long dark hairs on her head down to her toes in the leather, riding boots was numb. The reins in her hands slipped several times from wet, and she’d long since given up hope of being able to see past her horse’s head. She could only trust the mount to have better eyesight than she in this heavy wind and unforgiving onslaught. All around she could smell mold and mildew and leather as her party pushed forward towards their journey’s end. As they continued, a vast shape in the distance broke through the dark night at last. The familiar towers with their rising parapets rose like hands of God to tear the sky. Allison sucked in cold rain and bits of ice, but it didn’t matter. She could see the end. Home.

 

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed today’s post! I also hope that you take these steps into consideration during your current or next project. If you have other rules for “showing vs telling” or alternative feelings on this topic PLEASE leave a comment and help educate our growing community here. Please link us to some of your work or your blogs!

As always:

I’m excited to read what you’re writing!

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Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

How to Write from Your Past [Happy Mother’s Day!]

Writing is a deeply personal experience that, when done correctly, pulls a lot of you as a creator. You are required to be an archaeologist of your own mind and heart. What does that mean you ask? Glad you did. An archaeologist doesn’t just dig up old dirt and bones. They are detectives whose ultimate goal is to find the truth in the past. Each piece of history they pull out of a mountain, a desert, the underground, or the ocean is another part of the larger puzzle of an ancient mystery.  Writers have to be like that. You can’t just take a cursory glance at the surface level of your feelings and tell us that you’re hurt. You have to dig to a place that you forgot existed and piece together the mystery that you couldn’t see the in past.

The better you get at it, the more difficult it can be. I can always tell the difference between writers who are playing in the sand and those who are digging deeply and asking the hard questions.

This is something…I’ll admit…has been an ongoing challenge for me. It is only with great difficulty that I’ve been able to get through my current project, “A Memoir.” It’s my first collection of poetry, but I think of it as a nonfiction collection of stories, moments, and reminiscences of people that heavily influenced me to become the person I am today written in the poetic form. I chose to write my memoir in the form of poetry because that is the most honest medium for me to write about my own life. I’ve always expressed myself best in poetry, however, that does not mean that it’s been the easiest way for me to tell my feelings.

Taking hard and honest looks at yourself, your mess, and your pain requires many moons of personal introspection and dissection. Don’t take it lightly! Childhood traumas, first heartbreaks, abuse, past failures, loss….these are just some of the events that you’re going to have to relive. Most of us don’t want to think about them, and even if we choose to write about them…our hope is to be able to do it from a safe distance without the fear of being pulled back in and eaten by the monster under the bed known as “Regret.”

Unfortunately, [great] writing requires that we conquer fears. It demands that we face who we are with honest and accepting eyes, so that we can tell our truth. Not only because the hidden, ugly truths of our hearts will greatly influence and possibly even bring relief to others who are experiencing or have experienced the same tragedies, but also because sharing those truths will bring relief to us.

There’s a burden that is lifted the first time you can express the deepest, darkest parts of yourself without fear or reservation. There’s a weight that immediately dissipates and is replaced by a breath you had no previous knowledge of holding. Truth is a beautiful, magical, and powerful thing that can wage wars and host tea parties all in the same afternoon. Let it wash over you like a spa, not like an avalanche. Be honest in who and what you are and what you’ve experienced.

And honesty…..should not just be with the hard truths…but with the fun ones as well. Tell us the joy you’ve experienced; share the blessings that have been made manifest in your life. The easy truths offer hope where the hard truths offer redemption. We need both. We need your story. The real story.

Anything else…just creates more barriers and pain.

Your truths will hurt people you love. Expect that. But it will free them too…even if they don’t see it that way at the time. You can’t allow yourself to stay locked up inside to satisfy the needs of another person. Other than unfair, it is also unwise. When you choose to remain in bondage, you are justifying the bondage of others. But when you allow yourself freedom, you are justifying the right for others to be free as well.

So…have faith, take courage, and hold to the truth. There’s only one. And it demands to be spoken.

In honor of the special occasion of Mother’s Day here in the United States, I am going to debut a piece from “A Memoir” written in honor of my mother. I pray that you hear the truths behind the words, and that it encourages you to find your own.

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Personal Anecdote, Writing 101

How [Great] Writers Read Differently Than You

A writer’s greatest tool is his or her ability to read. That’s the first way we learn what we like and what we don’t, what genres interest us, as well as what’s popular on the market today. Reading is so much more than a pastime. (Although it is by far my favorite – even more than comic book movies and anime and maybe even Disney movies!) It is also our most significant form of professional development.

So let’s talk about how [great] writers read.

If you don‘t have time to read, you don‘t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that. – Stephen King

[Great] writers read for insight.

In order to understand the craft of writing, one must read the works of great authors. Just as musicians have to immerse themselves in sounds, so too must writers, authors, and poets immerse themselves in words, in well-written language. How will you know what’s popular or attractive to sell if you aren’t reading the bestsellers and comparing or contrasting to your own work? By what standard do you judge yourself and the strength of your narrative voice if have no scale to use as a rank? Reading helps you establish where you feel like your works fall in the lineup. Reading to understand what makes good writing, what makes popular writing, and what sets apart your writing is so integral.

A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself. – Jane Austen

[Great] writers read to think.

Writers are a highly self-motivated group. Or at least should be. Their primary objective is always improvement. Development is key. Reading, however, is the key factor to development as a writer. Whether one writes fiction or nonfiction, poetry, plays, or greeting cards, he or she is daily seeking to grow in the craft. They not only read books that they enjoy, but they also read books on writing, blogs on writing (good for you that you’re already doing this!), and book reviews.

The better you want to be as a writer, the better reader you become. [Great] writers also read personal development books and articles. They study ‘growth mindset’ and learn about the marketplace for publishing in both traditional and digital formats. As students of the craft, they are also knowledgeable of the businesses of print and digital media as well as where they fit into or want to fit into today’s market. Even the writer who only writes for the love (meaning for free!) must still understand what the best ways to share their stories and their voices are. There is no better way than to read what’s available for them and find out.

Libraries raised me. – Ray Bradbury

[Great] writers read to branch out.

Understanding the marketplace means going outside of your comfort zone. There will be plenty of books and series that become popular that make you scratch your head or want to ram it through a wall. However, as a [great] writer, you must understand the whys! Why do people like it? Why do you hate it? Being able to make the connection helps you become stronger and more versatile in your own writing. Plus, you could accidentally discover a fondness for a new genre. And who doesn’t love opening themselves up to a slew of new, exciting books they never knew about?

Also, when you branch out to read new things, it exposes you as a writer to new writing styles and plot development techniques. Every writer has something that is unique to their voice. We can all learn from each other. Maybe you’re a fantasy writer with a pacing problem, but when you read the mystery novella your sister recommended, you notice a cool technique that could help you get your manuscript together. Or what if you’re a script writer, and you can’t get the dialogue or stage directions just ‘write,’ and one day you pick up a piece of nonfiction that establishes a beautiful connection to the reader that parallels with the story you want to sell?

Branching out as a writer opens up your mind to new and exciting possibilities you may have never considered. It helps you get away from the traditional tropes of your genre and gives you fresh ideas for invigorating your writing style. I personally always seek new types of books and movies and magazines to enjoy (or not!), both print and digital, from well-known and virtually unknown creators. No matter how bad the writing may be (or how exceptionally great), I can always find something that I’m able to use to be better at crafting my current story or next poem.

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive. – James Baldwin

[Great] writers read to connect and be inspired.

The art of writing is the art of connection. If you’ve never experienced it, how on Earth can you ever convey it to your audience? Writers of merit seek connection with other writers through their work just as they (and every other human being) seek it from other persons in any aspect of life. There is a need to touch and be touched that we all share. Reading feeds that desire and, if done well, creates an ever worsening hunger.

Feed your inner beast. Read.

In the highest civilization, the book is still the highest delight. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

[Great] writers read for the hell of it. To them, reading is fun.

I’ve never met an amazing writer who wasn’t an avid reader first. And not for any of the (albeit important) reasons listed above. Every writer I know genuinely enjoys the option of a good book over almost any other pastime. Reading is an opportunity to enter into someone else’s world, and oftentimes you leave with a better understanding of the one around you. When done well, reading will create a response on the inside that you hope to bring about in others. Developing a love for reading is ABSOLUTELY imperative to developing the ability to write well, in such a way as to gain and maintain the love and trust of your reader. Besides, reading is its own reward. Virginia Woolf said it best:

I have sometimes dreamt … that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’

 

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Creating Your Perfect Story Arc, Writing 101

5 Steps to Better World Building

There’s something so captivating about a fictional setting that lulls you into submission. However, there’s also something so disappointing about a world that’s unfortunately “beyond belief.”

Every writer and poet can benefit from a lesson or review in worldbuilding because every story has a setting that occurs in some form of time and space. The best storytellers (including nonfiction writers!) can craft a world around their protagonists that becomes a character of its own, that lives and breathes, and that acts upon the protagonists in the story with as much intensity as any villain or friend.

There are countless examples of authors who give us worlds that we are just as enamored and enthralled with as we are with the characters that made them famous. From J.R.R. Tolkien’s mind-blowing land of elves and orcs in the award-winning The Lord of the Rings series to the engaging landscape of 1980s Iran from the mind of 14-years-old Marjane Satrapi in the nonfiction graphic novel Persepolis

So how do YOU do it? Well, we’re going to look at some of the greats at this. As I said, there are COUNTLESS writers we can point to…these are just some of my favorites. Feel free to give some examples of your own in the comments below!

Here are my 5 fool-proof starter steps to worldbuilding:

1. There’s a science to this thing.

You don’t have to get Star Wars technical about how you write your next great literary work, but trust me that it does need to make sense. Our suspension of disbelief does not qualify you to suspend good effort from the backstory. Your world should be self-explanatory and answer some key questions about why your setting is the way it is or how it came to be. Don’t just say it…make me believe it.

       

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For the same reason that Newton’s apple fell out of the tree in the real world, the laws of physics (or possibly lack thereof) should apply in ways your readers can wrap their minds around. Just because you have a futuristic sci-fi thriller that involves instantaneous time travel, does not mean you get to jump over the small details. What kind of change does that have on the time stream or the human body? Does your story involve magic? Well, magic has rules just like everything else in the world. Does it work like a muscle from the inside out that one has to develop or does it work like a tool from the outside in that one has to master?

If you are writing an epic fantasy, please be aware that armies do not move thousands of men across vast distances in days…or even weeks….in the olden days, it could take years to get armed military forces, supplies, rations, weapons, and animals from one place to the next. In HBO’s TV adaptation (“Game of Thrones”) of the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin, multiple epic plot points of the storyline happen in between military movements, in castles far from the bloodshed. So, keep these things in mind as you’re creating the plot line and building up to the epic battle scenes of your story.

       

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If you’ve built a world that is expansive, be prepared to play the long game with yourself. Travel over mountains and valleys, desserts and snowy terrain, marsh and beaches. How are the supplies ferried from wherever they come from to the troops? Are there weak points in this system that the enemy can exploit? Who are the major players making these decisions? Who are the major players on the ground working with and over the troops? Do they have the same agenda?

If it takes years to get where you want to go in your story because the world you’ve built has to be explored and the science or geography has to be explained, then tell us what is happening during the down time to build up to that climatic moment in the book (or series)? What is building up in the world, in the warring communities, to key individuals and organizations? Make the world you’ve built for your characters work for you, not against you. 

2. Define points of interest.

I see new writers (and even some veterans) who mess this up in their worldbuilding frequently, so it ranks pretty high on my list. At some point in the writing process, a writer can get so excited about their work and the world they are describing that they take us on a literary tour of every place and point of interest. Well, just like every country has its capitol cities and points of interest, so too should your story, book or poem. If there are a myriad of amazing places to visit in the world you are creating, then that is awesome. We want to read about them all…just not in the same chapter and sometimes not even in the same book.

There are sequels for a reason.

There are novellas and literary accompaniments (like guidebooks or maps) for a reason. 

Personally, I think a great example of how to do this well is J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. If you haven’t read this dark, paranormal romance then you should. It’s littered with amazing, indecent leading males and females who cover the gamut of hotness, ferocity and chivalry. It is also an epic example of worldbuilding in the modern era. Set in the real life borough of Caldwell, New York, the Brotherhood fight a hidden battle that goes from the city streets to the rural farmlands to underground hospitals to a mansion in the woods to a cave in the mountains to so on and so forth. However, most of each novel takes place in no more than two or three locations. 

Over the course of 15 plus books, two spin-off series, and a host of novellas and anthology short stories, Ward has taken us through every nook and cranny of this would-be small setting, expanding it with relish and fervor in our minds. But she never felt the need to give us too much at once. As you build the world your characters live in make sure that the major plot points are happening in a manageable amount of places. Not only does it help you keep your story from running away from you, but your reader can process these snapshots of places in each story much more than they can handle being ridden around the globe in every novel you write.  

3. A good setting is organic…it develops.

The trick to this is that you can’t be afraid of change. I know what you’re thinking. “I spent so much time creating this idea and making it work….” And it can continue to work, but don’t be so frigid about the how. The same way that characters can grow and develop in ways you didn’t originally plan, so can your characters’ world. Maybe the endless universe suddenly comes to an end or the someone kicks over the playground bully’s bike for the first time. Whether the change is small or grand, it doesn’t matter. Epic comes in all sizes.

In the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a perfect case; the entire setting is actually created to shift at will with moving staircases and rooms that change positions and characters in paintings who go from frame to frame throughout the castle. Hogwarts also undergoes numerous transformations during the Golden Trio’s (Harry, Ron and Hermoine’s) time. These changes were not just the physical sort as when the school regenerated itself after the major battle of the last book, but also in the nature of how Rowling described Hogwarts according to what was going on in each novel. 

There was a sense of awe and amazement during the first novel as Harry acclimated himself to the Wizarding World, and as time went on the magical happenings of Hogwarts began to be described as more and more commonplace because both the main character and the readers were growing accustomed to it. Another example is the atmosphere of the books during Hogwarts’s takeover by the corrupt Ministry of Magic. It goes from being a safe, secure haven to being the threshold of the enemy. Things get darker and heinous very quickly in the same place where peace and joy once reigned.

   

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Rowling’s ability to take the same setting and play on different emotions based off of the needs of the scene is amazing. She demonstrates how influential both physical and metaphysical changes in worldbuilding can be. Keep this in mind as you work through your own manuscripts. Are you taking advantage of changes in season, day and night, destruction of important or holy places or maybe even the creation of them to add a different dimension to your story?

4. The setting and the plot should mirror.

This step goes hand in hand with the previous one. Just as your setting should develop along with your plot line, it helps to paint a picture for the reader if the setting and plot mirror each other as well.  Take for example, the dystopian page-turner Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins about a girl from an outlying, poor district of the fictional country of Panem accidentally getting in the middle of a rebellion to overthrow the country’s despot. Katniss could have grown up in the Middle Ages for all the poverty, wildness and brutality of her original home, District 12, verses the vibrant El Dorado of The Capitol.


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The series (and movies) also take us through technologically advanced training and monitoring centers …


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…as well a harsh and unforgiving wilderness where the children of this country do battle.


via GIPHY

The genius of Collins’s writing style is that the various settings of Panem play together in such a way as to show the depths of the hypocrisy, classicism, and machiavellianism that run rampant in this culture. The setting pushes the plot without any of the characters necessarily pointing it out. Their reactions and responses to each new place (and how these responses differ from character to character) add a unique layer to the overall themes and arc of the story.

5. Make your setting is the main character of your story.

To help keep that organic flow we discussed earlier, you have to think of your setting like it’s another character. What is its backstory? Is it the protagonist or the antagonist? If your world could make a wish, what would it would wish for? Who or what is standing in the way?

When worldbuilding you have to have a setting that is as integral to the storyline as the characters themselves. There’s something very anticlimactic about a reading a book, thinking it’s well-written, but it could have taken place anywhere. This was my foremost thought after reading Soundless by critically-acclaimed author Richelle Mead. Now, I’ll mention Ms. Mead again in subsequent posts because I really am a huge fan of her work. Her YA series Vampire Academy and its spin-off Bloodlines totally inspire me as far as emphasizing the diversity of feminine strength and the power of being able to write distinct roles for girls that do not succumb to the same modern pitfalls of most novels.

However, Soundless, a story about an ancient Chinese girl from an isolated, deaf-mute village in the mountains who wakes up one day as the first person in generations who can hear, does not meet the mark as Mead’s previous stories did. It wasn’t the characters who were an eclectic mix of youth battling between the traditions of the past and needs of the future or the storyline which had ample plot twists (though the ending was quite contrived). The most basic issue I had with the novel was that it could have happened anywhere. I kept asking myself, “Why is this girl Chinese? Why a mountain? Why not Polynesian and on an island or Scottish-American living on a rural farm?” The characters didn’t the setting, and the setting didn’t need the characters. Their relationship was accommodating towards each other at best.

Remember that you can’t force your characters into a world that doesn’t make sense or force your world to adhere to pre-created plot points for your characters. Don’t build up how treacherous a mountain is or how rare the golden goose egg is and then every five chapters someone finds a new egg or scales the mountain with only a few bruises and scrapes. And never write a story where the world you’ve set it in is unimportant to the storyline. It’s one of the most important characters you can write.

I hope that these steps help you on your journey towards crafting a better work of art. Writing is something that you have to work at, and you’ll find that all the magic happens in the editing. My goal is that this guide makes your process that much more effective and thoughtful.

Are these helpful hints for you or were you expecting something else entirely? There are so many points to better worldbuilding or other books and stories that make great examples beyond the ones mentioned here. Share in the comments what books you would have chosen or which steps help you in your process? This way we all get to be a part of the process.

Don’t forget to share!

I can’t wait to read what you’re writing! 

—xoxo MéShelle

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Personal Anecdote

How I Knew I Had to Write…

Not everyone can say they’ve been writing their whole life, including me.

My relationship with the “ink and quill” didn’t formally kick off until I was 10 years old.  Half bribed, half dragged into a chair by my 5th grade teacher, I had a piece of paper and a pencil, plus the promise that I could skip leaving the classroom for lunch, recess, art, and music class so I would have time to finish a poem on “Backgrounds” for some arbitrary competition. [More on that poem and the significance of it in my life….on a later date!] Why would I be so lucky as to skip all of my FAVORITE out-of-class activities? My teacher waited until the last day for submission to tell me that there was even a contest. Well, obviously I was excited about rising to the occasion (although I silently resented missing lunch with my friends to eat by myself in the classroom), and I knew I wouldn’t need that many hours to complete the task. As a matter of fact, I set a goal to be finished before the music ended with enough time to sing a few bars before art. I reached that goal and then some. My piece that was barely submitted on time ranked #1 in the Clayton County School District and continued on to place in the top 10 in the state of Georgia.

That went a long way to boost the confidence of a kid who’d just hit double digits and felt like it was time to start making something of herself. Great grades just weren’t as exciting or challenging for me by that time (and to be honest, that trend would become a problem for me in college, but that’s for another post!), so I needed an outlet. Writing seemed like an interesting venture. I’d never competed against myself before that moment.

I had a lot of pent up words to share…even if I just shared with myself.

So, I started with notes and poems and thoughts. Suddenly, everyone knew about my award-winning debut as a poet. There were spare journals, diaries, notebooks and all manner of floral, sparkly, pastel stationery in my room. They seemed to be taking root and sprouting out of the walls, under the covers, inside the drawers and behind the closed doors of the closet. Every birthday, Christmas, moving day, spring cleaning, or “just because it’s Wednesday” gift featured something to write with or on. The expectation was obvious, yet mostly unspoken….so was the pressure. Continue reading

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