World Building: Do the Rules Matter? (Survey Says Yes)

Fun fact about me: I never received detention, not once throughout all my school years. I was not a rule-breaker and knew that rules established the order of things. I LIKE rules, probably because I am forever and always a goody-two-shoes. Much like in the real world, there are rules that must be built into your fantasy worlds. Whether you’re writing dystopian, paranormal, or supernatural, authors must configure rules into their worlds to set up plot and help readers suspend their disbelief even in a fantastical world. This is different from your culture’s internal laws and the possibilities are endless, even if it’s defying gravity or other impossible-in-real-life situations.

Let me explain further. In Harry Potter, for example, we know that despite the wizarding world being in plain view of Muggles, they are separate worlds. Underage wizards cannot perform magic outside of Howarts, there’s a Ministry of Magic as their form of government, and as Hermione constantly reminds Ron, wizards cannot create food or money from their wands. Those are basic rules that everyone knows and as readers, we understand that these things are impossible because of the way the world is built. No matter how talented Harry might be, he’ll never create a million dollars from his wand, just as Hermione cannot create a delicious feast from nothing. While all the things we read in Hogwarts are unbelievable, we are able to suspend our disbelief because we understand how Rowling’s world works based on a few established rules (and more as we keep reading).

As usual, I’ll compare it to what I know – my Gifted world. Despite the components of a magical circus, there are set rules for the characters that help keep a reader grounded to the story. Much like a wizarding world, gifted beings typically hide themselves in plain sight of regular humans – but it is definitely a secret world and has been since the beginning. Each individual has a unique gift to their “species” so to speak and gifted only have one power (as opposed to X-Men, some of whom have several powers in addition to what they’re known for). That sets a few rules that readers can understand even if they can’t relate, but it helps them settle comfortably into your world because they know you won’t suddenly change things up on them.

Every world is different but provided you’ve set some rules, it will be much easier for a reader to feel involved, even if it’s not an in-your-face fantasy. The witchy thriller piece I’m finishing is set in the everyday world and while there’s certainly a little hocus-pocus floating around, the story is more focused on the murder/thriller plotline. My witch magic is subtle (flickering lights, sudden weather changes, and other explainable things a human wouldn’t blame on magic) but rules are still in place to establish how their world works and how a reader should approach the story. If a reader sees an author breaking their world rules, it can turn them off – who’s to say you won’t keep breaking your own rules and throw everything we’ve just read out the window because now suddenly that one broken rule affects the rest of the story. It’s a cop out, in my opinion, because it means that not only did we not establish a solid world, but now we can’t even get our heroes out of the problem with their own skill set. We’ve then hurt our hero’s credibility! If Hermione could suddenly produce meals out of thin air, that means they shouldn’t starve, shouldn’t feel the hunger pains and accompanying emotions that come along with their frustrated journey to defeat Voldemort. It would’ve taken away a lot of angst, which of course only adds to our character development.

Moral of the story? Establish your world-building and make sure you understand the rules. Ask lots of questions as you jot everything down – can they produce food or money from thin air? Is your vampire still dangerous even though he dates a human? Can Character X accomplish her task once you’ve set up your fiction government control? (And if not, how does she overcome her obstacle?) Once you figure out what works and what doesn’t, you’ll have an easier time writing your story (that I can promise you!) because you know the boundaries of what your characters can and can’t do. Rules will help readers become comfortable with the story as they get lost in a world unlike their own and they can trust you to take them on a fantasy adventure that’s both realistic and unexpected.

What’s It to You What I Read?

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Jane Eyre. I don’t get Mr. Darcy comments. It’s not just the old British stuff, either. Atlas Shrugged, The Road, or The Catcher in the Rye are a few I haven’t read nor ever will. I sound like a terrible English major. But you know what? I’m tired of feeling ashamed of reading what I like to read.

If you love those types of books, that’s awesome. You get 1300 reader points from me, because I know lots of people who love the “classics” and/or literary fiction and that’s totally fine. But they’re not for me. I read lots of other classics through English classes in high school and college and only a handful really stuck with me (I’m sure the frat parties didn’t help). The rest I avoided in favor of Sweet Valley University or Harry Potter.

Even during my college courses, my favorite class was Kiddie Lit (Children’s Literature), where I read tons of YA books–that’s where I felt most at home. I adored the syllabus, ate up every YA book, went to town on end-of-semester papers and what I considered for themes. British Literature, however, bored me to tears. I adored my American Lit professors (the toughest one pushed me harder than ever and I still respect him so much for it), but admit that after I read those books, they got stashed in a closet or sold at the end of school year for booze money…er, I mean…no. We all know I meant booze. I loved some of the books I read for American Lit (The Sun Also Rises, Slaughterhouse 5, Tender is the Night), but there’s a slim-to-none chance they get read again. Instead, they’ll sit proudly on my shelf as war heroes from the college years (because let’s face it, after 5-10 years of wear, tear, dust, and moving, they deserve a medal of appearance).

That’s why I don’t hate so hard on Twilight. I’ve read the books and while I could rant about them all day long, that’s just MY opinion (and boy, do I have ’em about that saga, but I digress). There are plenty of other readers who love them and I can’t argue that those books helped grab more readers for the rest of us. I would never get into a verbal brawl with a reader about them, because that’s simply what they enjoy. Harry Potter and Twilight helped put reading back on the map for a lot of people and I can’t fault that one bit. I LOVE people who love to read, who are passionate about a story, and want to encourage others to pick up a great book.

I certainly appreciate the hard work that goes into literary fiction, to the incredibly written pieces of work, but it’s not for me. I like my mystery thrillers, fantasy, paranormal YA, occasional chick lit, and humor books. I’ll even throw Fox Trot comics on top of that pile (I very seriously own every anthology). Maybe that makes me a shallow person, but I simply know what I like to read. Nonfiction can be occasionally interesting, but I’m super picky.

All the same, and I say this as a reader, not a writer, I think that everyone should simply read what they enjoy. Don’t force yourself to read something you feel is a waste of time. (Okay, obviously, this is for the non-school crowd. You guys know what I mean. I’m not encouraging homework mutiny. Write your papers and do your work, then you can read whatever you want.) But why read something you don’t really want to read?

And the complete opposite can be true for others: if you don’t like the fluff, don’t worry about it. Read the classics and heavily discuss them with other book lovers. There’s a niche for everyone and there’s no shame in what anyone reads. Sometimes I still turn red when I get odd looks in the YA section of stores (and high school girls still intimidate the hell outta me, so I don’t go near the section when they’re all standing there looking like queen bees. Yeah, it’s a weird thing), so at least now we have Kindles/Nooks when we’re feeling a little shy.

(Of course, if that’s the case, then I suppose I’m begrudgingly accepting others read stuff like 50 Shades, in which case have fun with that, but don’t come discussing it with me unless you want a rant with a bunch of frustrated noises and unladylike cursing. To each his own, but I’m gonna do my best to ignore erotica and/or crappy writing. In 50 Shades’ case, that’d be both. I’d say sorry, but I’m not.)

I know Gifted is for specific readers; if you don’t like fantasy, you’re probably not gonna have a great time at my circus. It’s not serious literature. It’s a fun, light read about a murder mystery at a supernatural circus. I know it’s not for everyone. AND THAT’S OKAY! You can put it down. Go ahead. I won’t take offense. (And to be honest, and I promise I’m not trying to show how ‘cool’ I am, but with all the drama in the book blogging world, I wish more authors would be laidback like I am about it.) I wouldn’t want to grumble my way through a book and wind up resenting the story or author. As many book bloggers have said, life is too short to read bad books. Read what you want. Have no shame–love what you read and share it with others like you!

Writers Have Feelings, Too

I feel like I’m holding my breath right now. That I have been for a while now. I don’t know when I can let go, but my face hasn’t quite turned blue yet. Luckily, I’ve got this guy–Fisher, not his chipmunk pal–to keep me distracted enough to barely even feel the burn in my lungs: (brief pause to show off my cute dog)

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I have several (no, dozens) of copies of my book out right now for review. Lots of paperbacks; triple that with Kindle copies. Now the hard part is playing the waiting game. Because my book is already out, I’m not upset my book isn’t “blowing up” but that means when everyone finally does review it (which is apparently next month and through the summer), I’m going to hear ALL THE THINGS that people like or don’t like. While I’m noting and planning corrections to my marketing mistakes, for now I accept whatever time frame it takes for bloggers to get back to me. I understand that I should’ve planned much further ahead of time. But I’m taking it in stride and will apply that to future releases. In the meantime, that leaves me waiting with bided breath, hoping that when reviews begin to come in, I’ll appreciate and learn from each positive or negative one. I expect reviews will be, as my mom puts it, feast or famine. Much like my two years of job searches, I expect I’ll have days, weeks even, without a single review or mention, followed by two straight weeks of my email hitting Red Alert.

As I’ve stated before, bad reviews don’t scare me (I’ve got a flask). I plan to take what criticism I can work with and use it to my advantage when writing Book 2. Assuming people aren’t jerks (and I can’t imagine that’ll be anyone I spoke with, rather random Amazon reviewers), I could take what they appreciate or can get by without to move the story along. That’s how writers grow and while it might sting, I’m ready to anticipate fixing any weak spots in future manuscripts. Plus I expect it’ll help my writing in other works too, as far as character development or pacing goes. I get where book bloggers are coming from and I’m hoping for honest reviews.

Now for the other side of the page: Writer have feelings, too. I don’t know if this applies to every writer, but many, many of us are pretty much just nervous people. That’s what I’ve decided in the last few months of putting out my work, specifically when I talk to other authors. There are plenty of others like me who are downright scared sometimes. We want our work to be good, to be special, to really grab an audience and move them the way your characters hope they do. It’s gut-wrenching to be turned down after so many queries to agents, so once we nut up the courage to go indie publishing, we now have to face everything ourselves. It’s intimidating and overwhelming and really, I’m looking forward to it being easier the 2nd time around.

Approaching a person, trying to be sincerely interested each individual, is worth every bit of the research and time investments a writer makes. (For the record, reading a book blogger’s Review Policy  is crucial. Every writer pitching stories to book bloggers, please take notice of their entries. You might have a basic skeleton of what your review request looks like, but send separate emails, name names, and anything else that shows a blogger you are. Read the About Me’s. If they’re investing their time to read an effin’ novel, you can take eight minutes of your day to read a few notes.) Once book bloggers have the books, however, it’s up to them to write a piece that best represents their ideas and opinions. Some state the sunny side of things–even if a book didn’t work for them, they still talk about what might work for others or what they did like. This is how I write reviews–even if I had problems, I don’t want to be blunt or rude about it. I especially defend the right to opinions (provided they’re all respectful), because what didn’t work for some usually works for others.

I’ve even seen some bloggers that offer the DNF (Did Not Finish) option to email the reason why and opt out of a review, thus sparing the reviewer time and the author pain. It makes sense to me, actually. If I can’t get through the first 100 pages of your book, it’s not going to end well for anyone. I just want to move on to the next book at that point. And at least as an author, I can be saved of a poor review and the only loss is a bit of your time (I’d say about twelve minutes**, tops).

I suppose that while I may get a low score on the love-o-meter, my hope is that it’ll be stated with respect. All the bloggers in my Twitter feed and email inboxes have been excellent and I believe even if they aren’t crazy about the story, they’ll still like something about the book. A character, a detail, a particular Gift even, would be something positive I can take from it, at least. We writers should always, ALWAYS be polite and sincere when asking book bloggers to do us a favor. But book bloggers will hopefully be considerate and professional about their reviews. (This is my general plan to saving the world, but we’ll come back to that.)

**I’m only joking about the time it takes for blogging, emailing contacts, and staying up to date on social media. Far longer than twelve minutes. I’d have a hell of a lot more posts if it didn’t take time and thought to create a unique post. Don’t throw tomatoes at me, book bloggers.

And now, just because she’s super cute and you deserve to smile on Tuesday, here’s my friend’s dog Lady. We like to think Lady and Fisher are dating, but neither of them seem particularly fond of the other. Either way, she’s a doll. It’s always better to begin and end a post with cute dogs.

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Author Interview (Writers): Michelle Muto

And we’re back! Today’s author interview is again with the amazing Michelle Muto, author of The Book of Lost Souls and Don’t Fear the Reaper. To read the review of Book of Lost Souls, please read here. And pretty soon I’ll have a review up for Don’t Fear the Reaper, too! In the meantime, let’s ask Michelle her advice for indie publishing and other fun information!

What was your process for your book from creation to publication? How long did this take?

I loosely outlined the story, then built character profiles for the main group before sitting down to write the first draft. Several revisions followed since The Book of Lost Souls was under consideration from a NY agency for a well over a year. But, in the end, another writer decided to write a story about a teen witch and that ended that. The Book of Lost Souls was trunked for months before I decided to go indie, so from the first draft to publication was well over two years.

Would you recommend self-publishing to aspiring indie authors?

I think it’s a personal choice. I’m not pro one and against the other. I do think that all authors should carefully weigh their options. And never sign away their rights, should they decide to go the traditional route. Get a intellectual property lawyer to look over any contracts.

How the hell do you balance everything? Family, friends, everyday activities, work, AND writing?

Not well, if you ask my husband. Sleepless nights? Tumbleweeds the size of rabbits in the house from time to time? Lots of dinners just thrown together, that’s for sure.

I have three series rambling around in my head (Ivy, Reaper, a new/old one one), plus one stand-alone novel. It’s pretty crazy right now.

Tell us how the book cover came into existence—was it a hands on process, did you know the initial look you wanted, etc?

I was new to indie land and had no idea what I really wanted. A book, something mysterious – but everything else? No clue. I spent days looking through photos and artwork before stumbling across the current cover picture. Lucky for me, I also discovered my cover designer, Sam Torode, who helped with the final product.

What do you think every writer should know?

That you are never the writer that you will be tomorrow. Practice, practice, practice. Always look to improve your craft.

What are the next big plans for you in regards to your writing?

Finish the book at hand, revise an older manuscript, and stay busy with Ivy’s next novel – oh, and Reaper’s new book, too.

Michelle, thanks again for being a part of this and helping out with such great answers! You can buy her books “The Book of Lost Souls” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on Amazon and be sure to give her a review and let everyone know what you think!