Tag Archives: novel

Expanding the World Inside Your Book

As I’ve progressed further and further in writing my first novel, I’ve found myself thinking about the world my characters live in rather than just about the characters themselves. After all, a book with great characters is one thing, but if they live on blank pages rather than a colorful fictional world with its own backgrounds and settings, the characters feel a little flat. We as authors have to provide information about our book’s “world” so that its characters’ actions make sense.

The following parts of a fictional world, in my experience, need to be fleshed out:


What does your book’s world look like? Where are the mountains, beaches, deserts/plains, forests, oceans, volcanoes, and so on? This information impacts the characters’ ability to travel and adds to the mythos of the world you’re creating.

Political Divisions of Land

How is the land divided up, politically? Are there separate countries, states, provinces, regions, etc.? Determine where these boundaries fall in your fictional landscape, and what that means for your characters.

Weather Patterns and Seasons

If your book’s world has different seasons than our Earth’s, you have to note that in your book, otherwise readers will be very confused! Also, any weather patterns that impact your characters’ travel plans and daily lives should be described.

Governments, Social Classes, and Social Structures

Is your book’s world largely governed by representatives, a monarchy, or some other structure? What about the social classes–is there just “rich” and “poor”, or are there subtler divisions, like “upper middle class,” “lower middle class,” etc.

Also, think about how people’s jobs might divide the population into classes, such as those dedicated to a particular deity, those who work in service industries, etc.

Races, Ethnicities, and Genders

How diverse is the population of your book’s world? Is it largely the same as our world, or are there more or fewer races/ethnicities? Are there just two genders, or are there more? (Hey, in fantasy worlds, you never know!). These decisions will impact your characters either indirectly or directly, depending on your book’s events.

Society Type

Is your fictional world based in an agricultural or technological society? In other words, are they mostly farmers or mostly not-farmers? This will determine what all types of conveniences your characters have available to them, such as running water, toilet facilities, and electricity, among other things.


What kind of technology is available to your characters? You’ll have to determine that too, and note that for your readers so that they know what parameters your characters are working within. It’d be weird, for instance, to be reading a book that’s supposedly about an alternate reality of ancient Greece, and then come across a Facebook reference in there somewhere.


What religion(s) are present? Are there even multiple religions? What is the deity or pantheon of deities like? What are the rituals associated with each religion? Outlining your world’s basic belief systems will be very helpful in determining how your characters will interact with each other on a spiritual basis; it may not be necessary for all plotlines, but a subplot or two may require it, so it’s good to have it fleshed out beforehand.

Where to Contain All This Information?

Keep a written record somewhere of this world-building information–for instance, I have several digital files on my computer with these details, kept separate from my novel but backed up in the same places. But you might find it easier to build your fictional world using a journal, notepad, or even a visual inspiration board to help you remember what places look like, etc. Whatever helps you access this information and reference it most easily!


Certainly, building a fictional world is difficult and requires a lot of questions to be answered. But if you want to make your book a fully-enriched experience, this background work will help readers appreciate your plot and characters.

(And even if your book is largely set in our world, it still helps to directly express the truth of the world as you experience it–other readers will be approaching your book with a different take on the world and will need to know how you see it to understand your book!)

Glassics: Saturday with the Spark

This is a complete topic review of all the posts in the category Saturday with the Spark. Looks like I need to do more drawing/art-related posts, as well as general creativity and crafting posts! But don’t worry, I’ll get to it all. 🙂


Sight-Reading Fail
Seeing and Feeling Music
Perfect Pitch
Melodies from Dreams
Joining My Voice with Others
There’s a Reason the Piano is Called a Percussion Instrument
Phases of Songcraft
Confront the Giant in Song
Studying the Songcraft of Others


Novel Therapy
Poems: Kernels of Art
Writing as a Pressure Valve
A Twist in the Web: Complex Subplots in Simple Storylines
Awake in the Middle of the Night? Write!
The Enemy of Creativity: Self-Censorship
Coming Up with “Novel” Ideas
Journals in Verse: My Personal Poetry
The Impromptu Writers’ Club
Connotation: The Search for the Right Synonym


Happy Little (Sketched) Tree
Little Doodles of Life


Getting All Beaded Up

General Creativity

A Fickle Playmate: My Muse

Novel Therapy

I never thought I’d be a novelist, ever. And yet here I am, producing original characters and inventing extended plotlines!

Why I Never Considered Noveling: Impatience

I was supremely impatient as a child and teenager; my brain balked at the idea of writing about a character or set of characters for a long time. Not to mention that I was notoriously horrible at picking names for my characters, anyway. Something in me at that age rebelled against the whole process, even though I enjoyed telling stories and I enjoyed the art of writing creatively. But I stayed within the world of writing largely short fanfiction, because I felt as though I had to keep my characters contained in a pre-approved box to make them workable. Writing a completely self-produced novel, or even longer fiction at all, I reasoned, would feel more like work or a school assignment than a pastime.

I continued with this self-philosophy well into graduate school, because I struggled to write enough pages for my professors’ long paper assignments. While I enjoyed creative writing, I decidedly did not like long academic writing. Sometimes I felt that I’d said enough about my perspective on a piece of literature in just 4 paragraphs, and I didn’t need to beleaguer the point; yet, my assignment said that the paper must be 10 pages long. That goal, of a set number of pages I had to produce, was locked around my neck time and again, like a yoke. “See,” I told myself, “this is why I don’t bother with writing a novel. I won’t like the process, and it’ll be too long and too hard for me to focus on and be happy with.”

The Sharp Mindset Shift

I had not counted, however, on my teaching career disintegrating into flaming ashes under my feet. I had to utterly quit the teaching degree program and return home, not because of any family emergency, but because I had begun to suffer severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. If I had thought writing a novel would feel like a prison, teaching had felt like a lightless dungeon.

So, while I sat at home recovering, I began to poke around with a story I had crafted about two years before for an online role-play. I had written a bit of backstory for the character (about 30 pages), but after my teaching classes got started, I hadn’t returned to it (though I had wanted to). I had all but forgotten about it…and then, there it was, sitting in a writing folder on my computer. Now, I had nothing else to distract me from it, so I turned to this little slice of backstory…and I began to write again.

Hope from Within My Own Pages

As the character’s backstory spun from my fingers into the keyboard, I began to take heart from the sparkles of hope appearing within the story. The heartbreak of my teaching career was still a fresh wound in my back, in my side, but in this story, which was so open, bright, and sweet, there was light to be found. My own story, one I never thought would ever be, was beginning to pull me from the mire.

As 2009 ended, I had a story of about 50,000 words; now it’s well over 100,000 words and still going. I’m writing on my own terms–not by a schedule, and not holding myself to a word count or a page count, and I think that’s what helps me keep on writing. It’s something of my own design, something I can find solace in. (Plus, if I make it feel too much like work, that feeling will come out in my writing and make the novel very hard to read!)

Your Writing Can Be Therapy for You, Too!

I’ve found that the act of creating (whether it’s writing, music, or another art form) is soothing and joyful, returning me to a better state of mind. If you find yourself in need of a “reset button” for your mind, try writing; you might just surprise yourself with what you create. Who knows, you might have your own novel buried in your head waiting to be discovered!

A Twist in the Web: Complex Subplots in Simple Storylines

In the last few sessions of writing my novel, I’ve found a cool little subplot that I wanted to work with more in the storyline. It is a much more complex and dark subplot than the larger story it’s couched in, but I’m finding it to be surprisingly interesting and driving.

Why This Works: It’s a Little Shock of Mystery

Overall, my novel up to this point has been fairly straightforward, focused on one character and that character’s impressions and perceptions of the world. The lightness and relative simplicity of this larger storyline seems to set off this little shadowy gem of a subplot quite well–the smaller subplot is more other-focused, more about the wider world around the main character, like a glimpse out a window.

I somewhat planned this and somewhat didn’t–I knew that this subplot’s initiating event would happen, and I wanted the story to be more other-focused at that moment, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to achieve that until I began to write it. Then this subplot began to emerge from my fingers, seeping into my keyboard and into the Microsoft Word file, and I began to marvel at what was being created. It was a sudden touch of mystery in an otherwise fantasy/Christian-fiction story, and it just WORKS. 😀

The great part about this is that it helps break up any monotony that might have formed for readers thus far. And there are a few more complex subplots to be written as well before this first novel of mine ends. It certainly is a twist in the story’s web, but it makes a very neat little pattern all its own, and I like it!

How to Introduce a Twist in Your Own Stories

No matter what size your story is, you can give your readers the same interesting turn in a story’s plot without having to make the whole story “suspense/mystery.” Here’s a couple of tips:

  • Place your twist in the middle of a particularly peaceful scene or section of the story, giving your plot a bit more texture (like the surprise of crunchy peanut butter in a PB&J sandwich).
  • Whatever you decide to write as your “twist,” reveal it slowly–don’t give all the information to the reader at once. I find that writing my “twist” subplot works best if I intersperse mentions of it in between other, lighter parts of my novel, giving my readers time to wonder about what’s really going on.
  • Try writing your “twist” subplot from the perspective of a new character, or maybe one of your minor characters you haven’t developed much yet. (You may not end up including this in your story, but it will be good background information and will force you to view this subplot with a different character’s perspective!)

Connotation: The Search for the Right Synonym

When I taught 7th grade Language Arts, one of the biggest complaints I heard from my students was “Why are there so many WORDS for everything, when a lot of ’em mean the same thing?” My response: “These words don’t always mean EXACTLY the same thing.” And then I went and taught a lesson on connotation–the shades of meaning hidden in words.

Why Connotation is Important

Connotation gives writing a subtle descriptive power, without which most stories would fall flat. The choice of exactly the right word is like an artist choosing just the right shade of red or blue for a painting–the wrong shade can make the whole painting look “off” to the viewer’s eye, just as the wrong word choice can give listeners or readers a wrong impression. It might be a little detail, but it’s important!

In my writing, I often hunt for synonyms of words whose concepts I use quite frequently–for instance, the word “said” is a big thorn for me, because I don’t want my writing to sound “like an echo chamber” (which one of my graduate school professors told me my writing resembled–GRR). These days, it seems I’m always struggling to find a word I can use in place of “said,” but often there isn’t any really effective substitute. Nothing just SAYS “said” like “said.” (If that makes any sense…LOL!)

This, plus reading lots of other people’s writings about having the same difficulty, led me to think about writing with synonyms in general. When we choose synonyms for words we are using more often, we can often get tricked into thinking the synonyms mean EXACTLY the same thing as the word we are replacing–like my 7th graders thought. That, however, is definitely not the case.

An Example: The Word “Said”

Take the various synonyms and sorta-synonyms for “said”, as a convenient example (many thanks to Thesaurus):

add, affirm, allege, announce, answer, assert, break silence, claim, come out with, communicate, conjecture, convey, cry, declare, deliver, disclose, divulge, estimate, express, flap, gab, give voice, guess, imagine, imply, jaw, judge, lip, maintain, make known, mention, mutter, opine, orate, perform, pronounce, put forth, put into words, rap, read, recite, rehearse, relate, remark, render, repeat, reply, report, respond, reveal, rumor, speak, spiel, state, suggest, tell, utter, verbalize, voice, yak

WOW! Did you know there were THAT many apparent synonyms for just SAYING something? I sure didn’t, until I researched it. And yet, all these words don’t mean EXACTLY the same thing as “said.” They all do mean that something was spoken aloud, but beyond that, there are many shades and tones of meaning:

Implies that the person has already said something before this, or is adding to another person’s statement

Implies a positive rather than negative response to a question

Allege/Assert/Claim/Maintain/Put Forth:
Implies a forceful or accusatory tone of voice

Announce/Declare/Judge/Make Known/Pronounce/Utter:
Implies a loud tone of voice, but not necessarily an angry shout

Implies a statement that simply answers another person’s question

Break Silence/Voice/Come Out With:
Implies a statement made after a long silence by other people

Communicate/Convey/Express/Put Into Words/Speak:
Implies a statement made over distance (like phone or email) or spoken in a neutral tone of voice

Implies an opinion spoken without evidence

Implies frustration or outrage, or even desperation

Implies a formal speech or structured words

Implies a quiet or possibly conspiratorial tone of voice

Implies a statement full of educated guesses or opinions

Implies light or small talk, not of much importance

Give Voice/Verbalize/Voice:
Implies a spoken opinion which was either held back for a long time, or has been silently held by many other people in attendance

Implies an opinion expressing “what-if” situations, fantasy

Means the statement has a hidden meaning or obscure connotation

Implies comments that are rude or false (i.e., “paying lip service” or “getting lippy with someone”)

Implies a casual tone of voice, maybe an offhand comment

Implies resentment or a sotto voce (under the breath) comment

Implies a firm tone of voice, not casual in any regard

Implies comments or questions that are being practiced

Implies speech that is given to an authority figure

Implies speech that is part of a sales pitch or otherwise overly practiced story

Implies speech that is intended to be persuasive

And This is Just One Example of Connotation!

Looking at this list might be a little daunting, but it truly shows how diverse English can be, in terms of giving dialogue a little color and life. You can change the tone and mood of a sentence just by changing “remarked” to “suggested,” or by changing “mention” to “convey.” It gives your work subtle dimension, like using a pencil to shade a character’s face so that it appears 3-D on a page.

Including Connotation in Your Own Work

When you’re hunting for the right word, it really does help to keep a thesaurus nearby (either in paper form or by searching Thesaurus.com). It might seem like a writer’s cliche, but it does help with crafting better prose and poetry, just like gazing at a palette full of colors helps an artist choose just the right one for a part of their painting. Look up the word you think you want to use, and you might find one in the list that fits your needs even better!

The Impromptu Writers’ Club

Are you struggling to write? Lacking inspiration? Feeling STUCK? The problem might not be writer’s block–it might be writer’s isolation. At least, this is how I started feeling after being stuck on my novel for several months. And, as you’ll see in the following article, it really took talking over the book with another person to help me get restarted on it.

How I Accidentally Started a Writers’ Club

For a while, one of my best guy friends and I had been hanging out at a local Denny’s on Sunday evenings, getting back in touch after life took us in very separate directions for a few years. It was a time for him to be away from work and away from home, a time where he could relax and we could catch up.  But it slowly became less of a social thing and more focused on writing–I was working (mostly unsuccessfully) on my novel, and he wanted to hear more about it.

Once I started sharing my novel-in-progress with him, seeing what he thought of my ideas so far, I found out that he liked it, and was eager to read more.  Thus, I was inspired to write more, and I found the process to be easier.  (He is now one of my four beta readers, if you will–my parents and my boyfriend have also read or heard most of the novel, and they have all been wonderfully supportive.) Having this support system around me helped me start writing and keep writing–now, I had an audience to write for rather than just myself!

Inspiration is Catching!

I knew I was getting inspired from these informal brainstorming sessions, but admittedly, I didn’t expect for my guy friend to pick up the pen himself after a few months. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though–he’s been working on his own stories since he was 14 years old! I was overjoyed to see him starting to work with his old stories again, and so I encouraged him to keep working at it, to keep writing, and that I would read and help if I could. (Since I was an English major in college and did teach literature and composition for a few months in a middle school, I have a little bit of experience helping people to write.)

A Typical Writers’ Club Meeting

When we get together for our writers’ club meeting, we usually sit at our respective computers, typing away for a few minutes (or 30, LOL). Then, we switch computers, so that each of us can read what the other has written.  We offer each other constructive criticism, ideas for expansion, and express interest–then we switch back, and revise as necessary.

This helps us both at the same time–we are both writer and reader, so we can easily switch back and forth between the two roles. Plus, reading each other’s work helps us both construct better-flowing stories, and the almost-instantaneous time between composition, reading, and revising makes the writing process speedier and more thorough. No more relying on my memory to figure out what to change in my story!

The Benefits So Far

This has certainly helped me make my novel much better, to have people around me who are interested in my novel and who offer their opinions on how the story is progressing.  Only four people in this world besides me know what it’s about, and each of those four I would trust with my life as well as my life’s work. Plus, I’m getting and giving really good feedback; being part of the creative process in a couple of ways gives me new perspective on both of our efforts.

I never realized how much another person’s input would help me write–I have always been shy about showing my work to someone else, fearing their criticism.  But in a way, doing this kind of writers’ club thing helps me brainstorm and not be so stressed about how the novel is going (or sometimes not going). Often, it’s fun to just sit there and talk out an idea over a fried cheese melt and a laptop computer; I get so much brain work done as I form the idea into words, and I also function as a sounding board for my friend’s ideas.

Have You Ever Tried a Writers’ Club?

Let me know in the comments!

Coming Up With “Novel” Ideas

I am several years into the process of writing my first novel, and it’s a lot slower and more methodical than I planned. But it’s also much easier than I thought it would be, especially when the Muse grabs me by the back of the neck and hauls me merrily along a new plot pathway. I find myself making stories and sub-stories, tying details back together and intertwining plotlines, almost without being fully conscious of it.

Question: Where Do I Get My Ideas?

I haven’t let a lot of people read the novel right now, mainly because I don’t want it stolen from me and I don’t want to show many people an unfinished product. But the people who have read it ask me sometimes, “Where do you get the ideas for your novel? This is a really unique and interesting plot, and the characters are really cool!”

Answer: My Real Life (in Bits and Pieces)!

I know this will probably sound flippant, but it’s true: My real life and the people I’ve met fund the basis of my novel’s varying stories and characters.

For instance, when something absolutely silly or sad or awesome or tragic happens to me, I tend to remember it, and I find myself drawing on that later for plots or subplots. I also draw on old family stories, especially for funny character anecdotes or certain phrases that pop out of various characters’ mouths while I’m writing. This, I feel, is a way to honor my past and my present, as well as make my characters more human.

The Problem with Using Real Life as Inspiration

Of course, the big issue with drawing on one’s real life for inspiration is that you don’t want to make the setting, the events, or anybody’s character too recognizable–otherwise, you may end up like Thomas Wolfe, who wrote Look Homeward, Angel. That novel caused quite a stir in his hometown, and not just a positive stir, either. So much controversy arose because people recognized themselves in the novel that Wolfe was prompted to write a second novel, unsurprisingly entitled You Can’t Go Home Again. Sad.

How I Incorporate Real Life Into My Novel–Sneakily

Instead of porting in someone’s personality directly, I usually combine aspects of three or more people when I am crafting new characters. I may take the looks of one person, the stature of another, the attitude of a third, and maybe with the motivations of a fourth, and blend it up with some imagination to create the character I want. This creates a character in which I can still believe (and more easily visualize), but isn’t recognizable to any of the people unwittingly involved in his or her creation. Doing this forces me to be more detail-oriented and sharp-eyed when I form characters, which in turn makes me better at crafting settings and working the characters into planned plot events.

Also, for story events and plots, I rework real-life stories, rewriting certain parts to fit the characters involved, as well as changing names and rearranging details to make the story even better/more effective. After all, I don’t want someone close to me to recognize a real-life story in the middle of my novel! Plus, with the kind of novel I’m writing (Christian fantasy-based), it wouldn’t quite make sense to have a completely recognizable story sticking like a toothpick in the middle of a cake. (Not to mention that stringing a bunch of random anecdotes together would be a little too A.D.D. to be a novel, LOL!)

These tactics ensure that I’m writing a story that is relatable and understandable, while still being imaginative. After all, if writers aren’t inspired by real life, then what are their stories even based on? Real life is just too full of interest to let inspiration slip by. 🙂

Want to Learn More about My Novel?

Hope you enjoyed this itty-bitty window into my writing process, and if you want to keep up with how my novel is coming along, check out my Novel Progress page!