On Persistence

Those of you who know me or follow me on social media have probably heard my good news by now. (Okay, you’re probably already tired of hearing about my good news.) For those of you who don’t, I’m incredibly pleased to say that my YA fantasy Amber & Dusk was acquired by Scholastic for publication! *cue happy dance forever*

But I don’t want to talk about that right now. I don’t want to talk about what the book is about or what inspired it or what it means to me. Today I kind of want to talk about something else, something that I’m not sure is discussed enough in this glorious complicated frustrating industry. I want to talk about an important–if not crucial–lesson that I learned very slowly, and with much difficulty, over the course of a number of sometimes soul-bruising years. The name of that lesson is persistence.

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I didn’t start writing seriously until six years ago, almost exactly. I’d written all my life–from incredibly detailed diaries to elaborate illustrated short stories to painstakingly-typed royal histories–but it had never really occurred to me that I could be a writer. But when the opportunity to really take a stab at writing presented itself, I jumped at the chance. What I didn’t realize was that I was jumping into a black roiling sea of rejection with no floaties and oh yeah, there were sharks.

No lie, I thought I was going to write a glorious first novel, make a million dollars, and I don’t know like move to a castle and surround myself with adoring fans. Spoiler alert: that didn’t happen. Looking back on my first query letters is seriously cringe-worthy–they’re full of awkward self-deprecating jokes, vague stakes, and rhetorical questions. SO MANY rhetorical questions. I was so naive, and so inexperienced. And when most of my query letters were summarily rejected with form letters–or, worse, not responded to at all–I was crushed.

I’m not sure whether it was pride or shame or competitiveness or some internal strength that made me soldier on. But I wrote a second book. And then rewrote that book in a different setting with a different main character. And then I queried that book. And when that one received four rounds of rejections, I wrote another. And after querying that one I finally got into PitchWars, an amazing pitch contest hosted by Brenda Drake. And I got an agent! I finally made it!

HAHAHA gotcha. No way. No siree. Try another three rounds of revisions, and going on submission with editors only to hear another mountain of pure unadulterated NOPE. And then writing another book and a half. And then going on sub again.

True story: three weeks before finally getting an offer on A&D, I literally broke down and finally quit. I remember sitting with my sisters on the floor of my niece’s playroom and sobbing into my wine. I was done, I was finished with hearing no. Writing isn’t just a job; it’s pouring something of my soul out into the world, and having industry professionals read that art, recognize that as art, and then still tell me it wasn’t good enough had started to break my heart.

All’s well that ends well.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no illusions. I’m still learning this lesson: persistence isn’t the end game–it’s the name of the game. And listen–my goals aren’t and shouldn’t be everyone’s goals. But having my book published traditionally has been my dream, and despite the above paragraph, I’m usually not a quitter. So while it feels amazing to have taken a step forward in this crazy journey, I still have a thousand miles to walk. But I’m not going to worry too much about that now.

I’ll just try to remember to be persistent.

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Whose Turn Is It?

I have been trapped in my office for the last week, finishing the line and content edits of my twentieth novel. Yup, 20th. I’ve been so consumed with it that I’ve lost track of days and hours and, for a minute, I was ready to email the Scribes to see who had dropped the ball on posting this week.

Well. Guess what?

It’s me.

Yup. This week is my turn to post and this is what happens when you use up all your words in the final stages of a book. You have no more space in your head for other things. It even took me fifteen minutes to write a four line email to my editor because I had to keep correcting it again and again. At the end I said, “I have no idea if any of this makes sense because I’m out of words.”

But, this morning, I finished the edits. It is done. The final draft is ready.

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All I have left to do is write the acknowledgements and format it so it’s all pretty and polished for ebooks and print editions and it’s done.

When I finished the first draft of Hexed and I realized it was my 20th completed novel I couldn’t help but do the math. Not counting some of the novellas I’ve written, just these 20 books, I’ve written somewhere in the ballpark of 1.75 million words in the last six years. If I include the novellas and short stories, I think I’m pushing 2 million.

That’s a lot of words, guys. I’m kinda tired, to be honest.

It’s strange too, because when I’m not writing, when I’m between books/projects, I feel guilty for not writing. I’m actually working on book 21 as we speak as a flash-fiction series for my Patreons right now. Seriously. And there’s nothing to feel guilty about! That’s a career’s worth of books in 6 years for Pete’s sake!

I think it has a lot to do with the shift we’ve seen in the publication market in the last 3-5 years. Readers don’t want to wait 12-18 months for sequels and writers really feel the pressure. I know I do. Of course, this is my full time job right now so I feel the pressure to write write write even more. But… I need a break.

I’ve said that before and allowed myself some time off, but not enough, honestly. I’ll give myself a couple of weeks and then I’m right back at it. But I think this time, I need some real, substantial time off. I’ll keep working with my Patreon posts because I need to, but my husband and I are taking our first real vacation in ten years exactly one month from today. So I’m going to take this month to try to decompress. I want to be rested for the vacation so I can enjoy it and not be exhausted. When we get back, it’ll be the start of October, and you guys know how much I love that time of year. I think I’ll be ready to write something new, something spooky, something fun.

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What Makes a “Real Book?”

Purchased from Adobe Stock

When I was at the Historical Novel Society Conference at the end of June, an agent reportedly told a room full of writers that when querying him/her, authors should mention any previously published books, but only if they are traditionally published because “self-published books aren’t real books.”

*Facepalm* In a world where traditional (especially “Big 5”) publishers and agents are making getting a traditional book deal more and more difficult, especially for first-time and newer (read: lower-selling) authors, what else do we have to do to convince those in the traditional industry that we are just as serious about our careers as our traditional counterparts and that our books are just as real?

What makes a book “real,” anyway?

  1. Well, obviously it needs to exist. That means any book offered in print, ebook or audio form is a real book. If I can read it in some way, it is a real book.
  2. For the publishing industry, it makes sense the book would need to make money, which means it needs to sell. Okay, those of us who have sold a few copies have real books. I know authors who are making in the five- and six-figure range each year with self-published books. Sadly, I am not yet one of them. But that makes my books no less real.
  3. Maybe it needs to have fans? Indie books have those as well. Ask their authors and they will show you fan mail. Those fans will show you their ratings on Amazon. Yep. Real book.
  4. Beyond that, the only other thing I can think of is that it needs special fairy rainbow unicorn dust.

In fact, I would argue that our books could be seen as more “real” because we invest our own money in publishing and marketing them. That doesn’t make our books any more high or low quality than those traditionally published, but it does give us a financial skin in the game that doesn’t come when you are paid for your writing.

What a comment like the one the agent made appears to come down to is the argument that in order to be a “real book,” it has to have passed the approval of an agent and then an editor. So under that logic, only the books they consider worthy are real. What makes them any more qualified to determine that, given many of the stinkers they have published? Any avid reader should be able to make that choice in an informed manner, and with self-published books, those readers have an even wider array of books to choose from, not only the few topics the industry thinks are “hot.”

Around 4th of July I saw a meme that showed The Declaration of Independence. Beneath it were the words “This was a self-published document.” That is so appropriate because this whole argument is kind of like saying only the king and queen can say which books get published. Well, now the people are rising up and saying, “no, we don’t need you to make every decision for us. We’re going to take power into our own hands.” Like every revolution, the indie movement has its supporters and its detractors. But like the bid for US independence, the horse has left the barn and there is no going back. Call indie authors rouge colonists all you want, but we’re here to stay whether you approve of us or not.

Now I know not every agent or editor feels this way, and I’m glad for that. I have nothing against the traditional publishing industry. What I do have a problem with is the “be-all-and-end-all” attitude inherent in the idea that only traditionally published books are “real books.” All we’re asking for here is equality, plain and simple. You don’t have to like that our books exist. Just acknowledge us and our ability to produce our own work. (Hmm…does that sound like the suffrage movement to anyone else?) And let us include it in our query letters. You can still turn us down if you don’t think our books are valid or our sales are high enough.

But please, don’t tell us our books aren’t real.

Fun Summer Reads!

So what are you reading this summer? I’ve got so many books on my TBR pile I may never see the top….or the bottom, depending on your perspective. (lol!) But since I’m in a blogging mood, I thought I’d make a list of the five(ish) books I’m most looking forward to reading now that it’s beach weather.

Feel free to leave me a comment with recommendations. Just bought a kindle for Prime day, so I have an excuse for a new book or two to celebrate.

(Also, fair warning….these are books on my TBR (or will be), so I haven’t read them yet. I also skew pretty heavily toward romance, so…)

 

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Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

I had this sort of embarrassing Facebook exchange the other day. See, I follow Jennifer Crusie’s blog (ArghInk) because she frequently has insightful posts about writing – and life in general. I’d posted one of her links to my FB feed, and somehow in the comments it came out that I’d *never* read one of her books.

Um, oops.

Several of my friends recommended this one, and my friend Kim even said we could do a buddy-read. I’ve requested it from the library, so as soon as it gets here, the read is on!

Blurb

Min Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet. Cal Morrisey knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But Fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal are dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kremes, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a mutant cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of including the biggest gamble of all—real love.

~*~

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A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Okay, so if you click on this one quick enough, you can still get it for $1.99! The basic premise of this one is that it’s a Sherlock Holmes story that answers the question, “what if Sherlock was a woman?” (I think that’s the general idea, anyway.)

I’d been intrigued by a couple posts I’d seen about Scarlet, and then yesterday my writing partner Irene Preston got all carried away telling me how much she loved it. I figure we write books together, so if I can’t trust her recs, I can’t trust anyone’s. (lol!)

Blurb

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. 
 
When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her.

But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

~*~

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The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

No one had to rec this one to me. It’s the third book in the series and I’ve been infatuated since the very beginning. The only thing I’m a little bit ashamed of is that the book’s been out for a whole week and I haven’t read it yet.

Rake – along with the previous books The Soldier’s Scoundrel and The Lawrence Browne Affair – are m/m Regency romances. I love the author’s take on history. She tells a great story with equal helpings of atmospheric detail, great characterization, and heat.

Blurb

Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

SoldiersScoundrel      ~ For inspiration, here are the other two covers. ~LawrenceBrowneAffair

~*~

SummerHeat

Summer Heat by Jay Northcote

Jay Northcote writes heat very, very well. I also love his handle on contemporary angst, and I love the Britishness of his books. This is a friends-to-lovers story, which is a fun trope, and I’m looking forward to a relaxing afternoon in the heat…er, sunshine.

Blurb

A summer fling is an ideal cure for a broken heart. But when it’s with your best friend, things get complicated.

When Adam is dumped by his boyfriend, a week away at a beach resort seems like a great opportunity to get over his ex. Sun, sea, and no-strings sex will be just the boost he needs to move on with his life.

Adam’s best friend, Finn, agrees to accompany him at short notice. Finn’s had a crush on Adam for years, but is determined to put his feelings aside and be the perfect wingman in Adam’s time of crisis.

A spontaneous threesome with another guy forces Adam and Finn to confront their attraction to each other. Having a holiday fling together wasn’t part of the plan, and as their trip heats up, they soon realise that one night of fun won’t be enough for either of them.

The passion might be scorching, but their hearts and friendship are on the line. If their romance is going to survive the flight home, they have to be honest about what they want.

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Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

This one doesn’t come out until August 3rd – which is good because I’ll  have a couple weeks to catch up on other stuff so I’m ready when it hits my kindle. In my mind, KJ + Paranormal + Victorian = amazeballs, and I cannot wait!

Blurb

Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

~*~

So yeah. That’s what I’m going to be reading in the next couple of months. What’s on your tbr? Rec your favorite in the comments! And I hope you’re enjoying the sunshine! (Unless you’re in Oz. Then it’s bundle up, mates!)

~*~

One more thing…as long as we’re talking summer reads, here’s a couple more suggestions!

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Four years ago it was pure Hollywood – the windswept beach, the whirlwind romance, the run-away marriage. Unfortunately, the ride into the sunset didn’t survive the publication of the bride’s tell-all book two months after she said ‘I Do’.

Reclusive venture capitalist Morgan Riley isn’t interested in fame. He prefers a quiet life in the suburbs. For his daughter’s sake, he agrees to give his notorious wife another chance to be part of their family. Even though she’s back at home and fulfilling all his late-night fantasies, he can’t help wonder if she misses her high-profile lifestyle and famous friends.

Everyone knows Jessica Sinclair. She’s that girl on the cover of all the tabloids. As a Hollywood insider, Jessica has spent her life partying with A-list celebrities, shopping on Rodeo Drive, and living through scandal after scandal. When her estranged husband offers her a second chance at the ‘All American’ lifestyle she can’t pass up a shot at real happiness. Back in suburbia, Jessica spends her nights in sexy role-play hoping Morgan will overlook her deficiencies as a homemaker. She spends her days attending P.T.A. meetings, burning cookies, and asking herself ‘What would June Cleaver do?’ More to the point, what will Morgan do when she winds up back in the tabloids–with his teenage daughter right next to her?

Read the first chapter of Infamous FREE!

~*~

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The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because good things might happen. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

Buy here!!

Cover and Title Reveal!

So, I am very nearly done with the eighth installment of my Urban Fantasy series: The Matilda Kavanagh Novels.

One of my most hated favorite things about books is figuring out the titles. Seriously though, they’re hard, but once you figure out the title, it’s awesome. Seven titles in, all being one word and a magical reference, I was stumped on this one. Until, suddenly, it hit me. I wasn’t sure until I did a mock up of the cover, and then seeing it? Yeah, I knew that was the title.

I’ve kept things pretty uniform with this series, creating a brand for it if you will, so once you get this far into a series you start to worry you’ve push it too far. Over done it and now it’s all starting to blur together like the same cover again and again. Some people may see it that way, but I think I’ve managed to keep them individual enough and I still dig em.

Anyway. I hope you guys like it, and if you’re a Matilda Kavanagh reader, the release date will be 9/5/17–just two months away! If you’re looking for a new series to binge, might I suggest this one? *end shameless plug*

Hexed

Pre-order links:

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

Research for historical romances

This week Scribe Brian O’Conor let us know that he’d have to leave us. I’m bummed because I’ll miss his posts, and wish him the very best in the future! This post first appeared Monday on Dale Cameron Lowry’s blog…though I might have tweaked a word or two, since I’m never ever done editing….

This last couple weeks, I’ve been busy celebrating the release of my 1950s m/m romance Aqua Follies. Since the past is on my mind, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned about research for a historical romance.

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There are probably as many ways to do handle research as there are writers out there doing it. My two most recent releases were set in the middle of the 20th century, long enough ago to qualify as ‘historical’, but not so distant from contemporary times. With both these projects, I approached the research as a series of layers, and I did my best to balance information and story.

First, I tried to place my stories as specifically as possible in time, to figure out where they fit in the big picture. For example, Aqua Follies takes place in late July until October of 1955. With those dates in mind, I framed the story with current events. WWII had ended ten years before, but the Korean War ended in July ‘53 so it made sense for the characters’ life experiences to be influenced by those conflicts.

In the mid-50’s Senator McCarthy was in power, and there were several incidents of gay men being rounded up and arrested or sent to asylums. At the same time the Mattachine Society – an early gay rights group – was spreading, and same-sex establishments were in operation in Seattle, their patrons’ safety reliant on a system of police corruption. Those were the kinds of real events that became the framework I crafted the story around.

Once I get the dates plotted out – the top layer – I look for information about what life was like in the time-period. Google is a gold mine for this kind of research. Pretty much the only limit for what you can find is your tolerance for digging. For Aqua Follies, I was able to find everything from essays on cultural attitudes towards homosexuals to the daily weather report, all of which helped me create the world where the story takes place.

It’s the details that will make the world ring true. My final layer of research is seeking out first person accounts that describe aspects of the story. One of the huge benefits of writing a story set in the ‘50s is that I could talk to people who been alive then.

My friend’s father-in-law, Overton Berry, played jazz in Seattle from the early ‘50s, and he was a huge help in filling in the good bits. Overton talked about how professional musicians operated, what the standard repertoire might include, and he also gave me a feel for what society’s attitude toward musicians might be. If I was working on an earlier piece, I’d look for diaries, old catalogues, and magazines to help with the fine detail. I will never truly know what it was like to live in 1950s Seattle, but I learned as much as I could to make readers believe I was there.

And what happens with all this research? Like ol’ Ben Franklin says, “Do everything in moderation, including moderation.”

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A good story will incorporate historically accurate facts without beating the reader over the head with them. This example might be kind of a cliché, but you don’t need a paragraph on how the Colt 45 was manufactured in the middle of a fight scene, and you don’t want a dissertation on a Victorian woman’s undergarments in the middle of sexytimes. Research should inform the story, not become the story.

In my work, I find the process has a real give and take; I write until I hit a detail I need to research, then dig around enough to feel comfortable writing more. In addition, research has helped me solve story problems. For Aqua Follies, I needed something dramatic that would keep my two heroes from coming together. A small story in the Seattle Times digital archives described how one of the real Aqua Follies synchronized swimmers mistimed a dive and nearly drowned. That two-paragraph article became a key event in the novel, and was definitely not something I would have come up with on my own.

Even with the best intentions, though, it’s possible to throw in an anachronistic detail. Despite something like eight beta readers and two content editors, it was the proofreader who recognized that Buddy Holly was still in high school in 1955, so couldn’t have had a song on Skip’s car radio. If there are other little slip-ups and a reader calls me on them, my best bet is to smile, apologize, and add them to my notes so I won’t screw up the sequel.

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I recently read a historical romance that I described as “the Glee version of a Regency”. The author had most of the details down, but there were enough little bumps either in characters’ attitudes or the language they used that I didn’t quite believe that version of the time period. The book sold very well, so clearly not every reader is going to throw their Kindle at the wall if a subordinate forgets to address a duke as Your Grace. Good storytelling is worth the effort, though, and I love the process of excavating the layers of history and finding a balanced way of bringing them to life.

If you’d like more information on writing historical romance, check out these articles by Elizabeth Crook, Chuck Sambuchino for Writer’s Digest, Anne M. Marble for Writing World, and KJ Charles. Thanks very much!

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AF_blogtags_blurb

The 1950s. Postwar exuberance. Conformity. Rock and roll.

Homophobia.

Russell tells himself he’ll marry Susie because it’s the right thing to do. His summer job coaching her water ballet team will give him plenty of opportunity to give her a ring. But on the team’s trip to the annual Aqua Follies, the joyful glide of a trumpet player’s solo hits Russell like a torpedo, blowing apart his carefully constructed plans.

From the orchestra pit, Skip watches Poseidon’s younger brother stalk along the pool deck. It never hurts to smile at a man, because sometimes good things can come of it. Once the last note has been played, Skip gives it a shot.

The tenuous connection forged by a simple smile leads to events that dismantle both their lives. Has the damage been done, or can they pick up the pieces together?

 

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7 Deadly Sins of SFF World-Building

Writing science fiction and fantasy is fun, and in my opinion, world-building is the bestest most funnest part. Whether you’re writing urban, historical, or alt-world fantasy, or a science fiction set in a galaxy far far away, world-building is a crucial part of the story-telling process. The world (or universe!) you create must be complex and multi-layered; it must be a place your characters operate in and interact with; and it must set the stage for your plot. It’s no easy task, and there are countless pitfalls at every stage of the process of creating a world.

Read to jump in? Here are my top cliches and tropes to avoid, listed in no particular order.

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Basing your other world TOO much on Earth

This is one of the biggest and easiest traps to fall into. Earth’s history and many cultures are far-reaching and complex, and it can be tempting to borrow elements whole-sale without bothering to do much work creatively. Think of how many famous fantasy worlds resemble Medieval-era Earth completely, right on down to the rampant sexism and casual racism (*cough* Westeros *cough*). There’s nothing wrong with using our world’s history and cultures to inspire your made-up world, but make sure it doesn’t become a lazy short-cut. If there’s sexism or lack of diversity in your world, you need a better reason than “that’s how things were back then.” You’re writing fantasy, not historical fiction. Get creative!

Over-use of common nouns

You know what I’m talking about…

The Keeper of the Shadow Throne awaits the Birth of the Kindred.

A Rim-born Elder must name the Crystal Celebrant on the Day of Undoing.

Don’t get me wrong–naming things is half the fun of writing fantasy and science fiction. And capitalizing a regular old word or concept can definitely lend it a sort of otherworldly gravitas. Just be careful not to over-use this trope, or your world will quickly begin to feel lazy and unoriginal.

perfect_planet-626x1024Making your races/cultures/societies too homogenous

So the indigo-skinned Topworlders enslaved the ruby-eyed Burrow Folk a hundred years ago, and now they hate each other with a vengeance. That’s fine, but does every Topworlder relish owning a Burrow slave? And do all Burrow Folk agree with the politics of the Burrow Queen who surrendered to the Topworlders’ superior technology instead of fighting for their land?

Here’s where taking cues from humanity is a good thing. I could strike up a conversation with the person sitting beside me on the bus and within ten minutes we’d be able to think of at least a few things we disagreed on–politics, religion, whether cilantro tastes like soap. Races, cultures, even sub-cultures don’t have monolithic beliefs that trump individuality. Make sure the individuals in your alien races or fantasy societies reflect this diversity.

Introducing a world-changing technology/magic without taking into account all its ramifications

“It’s like our world, but everyone can teleport!”

Yikes. The minute you start talking about wide-spread teleportation, it ceases to be anything like our world. How could it be? Something as potentially life-changing as that would have first-order, second-order, and third-order effects on the way a world was structured and the way its citizens operated within it. Do your world the service of thinking through massive changes in technology or magical power, and what kind of structural changes might arise from that.

Language that doesn’t reflect the world

Contextual short-hands and idioms are rife in the English language (or whatever language you’re writing in!) and they can really trip you up if you’re not careful. This is something I’m constantly correcting in my own worlds–if a concept or idea doesn’t exist in the world you’re creating, why would the character make any kind of reference to it? Good examples of this might be “inching along” if the unit of measurement isn’t inches, or “red as a rose” when there aren’t roses in space.

paperback04Not thinking about minutiae

Do you ever have that moment when you’re watching an intense adventure movie and you think to yourself “Good thing none of them have had to poop this whole time.”?

Worlds, at their core, are pretty boring. Your character may be battling the Dark Overlord of Doom, but the rest of the world isn’t. There’s waste removal and food service and communication infrastructure and architecture and the menial jobs that hold a society together. While your novel doesn’t have to focus inordinately on these things, it helps if you as an author have a basic understanding of how these processes work in your world, so there’s a seamless backdrop for the story to play out against.

Unless you’ve created a magical and majestic world were people literally just don’t poop.

Basing one-dimensional fictional ethnic groups on real-life ethnic groups

Okay, this is basically a continuation of the very first point, but it’s kind of a biggie. Rule of thumb, if you want to have Italians (or Native Americans, or the Irish, or Nigerians) in your fantasy or science fiction novel, you’re going to have to do your utmost to create an accurate and nuanced view of Italian culture. What you cannot do–please please don’t–is name them Etolians and have them running around shouting “Mamma Mia!” while they stuff their faces with spaghetti.

Any cultural or ethnic group within your novel should have multiple dimensions and a believable culture regardless of whether your main character comes from this culture or sees it as “other.” And this is where it gets tricky–the more your fictional group resembles the real-world group, the more you’re going to have to worry about being respectful and true to life. This becomes especially true when dealing with marginalized groups, but should really be implemented across the board. When in doubt, find a sensitivity reader, but that should be your back-up plan. Do your homework, and make sure you’re not basing a fictional ethnic group on a real-world ethnic group just because it’s easy.

Well, that’s world-building in a very large nutshell. Any questions? At the end of the day, creating a made-up world as complex, multi-faceted, and often nonsensical as our own world isn’t something that happens overnight. Take your time, be creative, and don’t rely on short-hand to make your point.

What are your favorite/least favorite SFF world-building tropes? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!