One of my favourite writing sayings is to 'treat your setting like a character'. Whenever I hear it, I'm reminded to look at my ...

One of my favourite writing sayings is to 'treat your setting like a character'. Whenever I hear it, I'm reminded to look at my storyworld as a whole; not as a backdrop for the action or simply a place to have my characters live, but a force of its own in the story. Having not just a vivid setting, but one that's alive can suck readers in and make them never want to leave the page.

While the advice to use all five senses and add interesting details is certainly helpful when it comes to constructing scenes and sentences, personally, it doesn't help me frame my storyworld as a character. If anything it seems to reinforce this position of the world being able to be understood in a quick list of experiences. So today, for your sake and for my own, I thought we'd talk about building our storyworld, whatever genre it's in, as we would any other character.





Backstory

The heartbeat of a character is their past, and the same is true as your storyworld. Rocks, rivers, mountains, oceans, etc. are constantly changing, yet they often outlive living beings. The soil and stones of the storyworld have been drenched with blood, then tilled into farms, then carved for the throne of kings. Assuming your world is populated with people, they or their ancestors undoubtedly would have changed the world somehow. But how?

Questions to bring your storyworld's backstory to life:
- What scars does the world have from its past? Are there ruins, ravines, weathered rock, or cracks where earthquakes shook them?
- Where did people in the past live on it, and how did they work with or against the world? What resources did they collect? What did they build, and does it still stand?
- What kind of plants and animals has the world seen emerge, change, or disappear over time? How did the presence of these now-gone creatures affect the world? How have the ecosystems changed?
- What did the world look like ten years ago? A hundred? A thousand?




Feelings

It may sound bizarre to say that the world has feelings, so perhaps 'moods' is a better term. But if we are to think of the world as a character, then it must have moods and a variety of feelings. (Ask anyone who's ever lived through Sydney's radically changing weather if this is possible, and they'll swear the earth has mood swings.) The unpredictability of a world's feelings can be dangerous, and stir up conflict on both small and large scales, same as it would for any human character. 

Questions to bring your storyworld's moods to life:
- How much does the weather change throughout the day, and throughout the seasons? Does it ever suddenly shift?
- If you could access your storyworld's thoughts, what would it think about everything going on at present? Would it try and stop or change anything?
- What natural events seem to indicate the storyworld's feelings? Are there violent thunderstorms, beautiful flowers springing up, or earthquakes shattering the world?



Personality

This is tightly linked to the feelings or moods of the world, but rather than a focus on what the world is doing because of these, personality means what it's like for those who live on the world, to interact with it. Characters are always part of a world, whether it be underground, in a forest, or in the middle of space. They should be constantly affected by the world -- and its personality. A great example of this is the Australian outback in "The Lost Man" by Jane Harper; the outback's personality could be described as harsh, brutal, and uncaring, making for an even tenser thriller and characters. 

Questions to bring your storyworld's personality to life:
- What do those who live in your world think of it? Do they love it or hate it? Why, and would they live anywhere else if they could?
- How have natural events shaped characters' perceptions of their world/nature? What about unnatural events?
- What is the general view of the world in your human characters' society? Is it something to be cared for, exploited, or something else?

When we start thinking of our storyworlds as characters, we have the opportunity to elevate our settings and worldbuilding from simply a backdrop to a living, breathing thing that can affect all elements of the plot. Backstory provides an aura of the world extending beyond the page, and feelings and personalities allow a setting to become an obstacle, friend, or hinderance to any plot.

Plenty of writers are excellent at creating worlds as characters, and here are a top few that you can read for further inspiration: "The Kinsman Chronicles" by Jill Williamson, "The Gilded Wolves" by Roshani Chokshi, and "The Cruel Prince" by Holly Black!



Do you think of your storyworld as a character? What are your top recommendations for books with settings or worlds that felt alive?
Have a wonderful day! <3

Looking back on all the books I've rated three or less stars this year, there's a clear pattern explaining why I didn't enjoy th...

Looking back on all the books I've rated three or less stars this year, there's a clear pattern explaining why I didn't enjoy them; I felt nothing for the characters. The plot might have been interesting or the setting intriguing, but to be honest, I didn't care what happened to the protagonist(s). 

As a writer this poses an interesting question; how do we make readers care? What is it that connects a reader and a character, so much that they desperately keep turning the page, hate anyone who stands in their way, and want to be the character's best friend?



1) Voice

Character voice is different from an authors' voice; while both are distinct, a character's voice should come through in what words the character uses, and what they notice, think, feel, say, etc.

Brandon Sanderson is a master of this in 'Skyward'. Spensa, the main character, has a voice that winds through each page and line. She's bold, determined, and has a habit of yelling detailed explanations of how she'll torture her enemies whenever she feels confronted or uncomfortable. The humour in this but also her fierceness made me instantly love her.

So how is a character's voice created? This question deserves a whole post by itself, but simply broken down, a character's voice is born from how the character sees the world, and how they process it. An artist will be more in tune with colours, while a fighter might immediately list all the possible threats and weapons in the room. An engineer might try and understand people as buildings; what holds up their hearts, what makes them work, and what could break them.

When a character's voice is clear and distinct, a reader can connect to them on a deep level, whether through humour, interest, or understanding. It makes the character feel real, and that is when connections emerge.



2) Pain, Struggles, and Conflict

No one likes to read about perfect characters. Why? Because they're unrealistic, and grate on our nerves since there's nothing in the character's heart that reflects our own. Pain, struggles, and conflict are powerful connection points in both real life and in fiction.

Going back to Spensa, as a reader I rooted for her from page one because of the immense opposition she faced to achieving her goal, coupled with her own internal struggles. Her father is an infamous coward, and the weight of that on her shoulders means that her own desires to enter flight school are constantly being shattered, stopped, or come at a high price. Doubling with her internal battle with the label of the coward's daughter, I couldn't not want Spensa to become a pilot against the odds stacked against her.

When characters suffer, empathy emerges in readers' hearts and minds. Who doesn't want underdogs to win, and those in pain to be free of it? 



3) Admirable Qualities

Characters who have a strong voice, undergo pain and opposition, but still hold onto qualities that make them admirable (or are learning these qualities) connect deeply with readers. It allows a balance between the darkness the character is experiencing, and traits readers can fiercely love.

Take, for example, Grey from "A Curse So Dark and Lonely" by Brigid Kemmerer. Despite being trapped in a violent and deadly curse, he remains steadfastedly loyal to Rhen (who's the Beast in this retelling), protects his people at the risk of his own life, and is a kind friend to Harper. His loyalty and self-serving nature has made him a wild favourite of readers.

Though readers often are drawn to morally grey heros, there's always a common thread in why they're favourites; they have a spot of white amongst the black, whether that be loyalty to family, humour, or passion. Readers are always searching for the good in characters and when they find it amongst pain and a strong voice, they'll love that character with all their heart.



What allows you to connect with characters in the books you read? Do you find giving your characters distinct voices easy or difficult? Who are your top three favourite characters?
Have a wonderful day! <3

When we moved into my current house a year and a half ago, we knew we would be battling a behemoth. Not the kind made of flesh or blood, or ...

When we moved into my current house a year and a half ago, we knew we would be battling a behemoth. Not the kind made of flesh or blood, or rent prices, but something that was alive in its own way; the garden. The original owners had carefully cultivated it, selecting each plant, setting up rock beds, but the years since their death, it had grown into a wild, feral thing. And we decided we wanted to try to tame the jungle.

It's a little less than that now, but there are still huge trees and swathes of dirt we haven't even been able to touch. Gardening is a huge time committment, and the grass and weeds grow faster than we're able to pluck them out. As much as its brought us to tears, frustration, and anger, it's also brought our family joy, and taught me a lot. Here are some the key lessons my garden has imprinted into my writing veins:



The Importance of Stripping Back

When we first arrived, we stripped back as much as we could. The weeds were dug out, branches were chopped back, bushes clipped to a manageable shape, and dead leaves plucked. We did it at first to make the garden seem neater, but we didn't realise how much growth stripping away the dead parts could summon.

It's the same with editing. It can hurt when you cut that extra paragraph or character, feel like you're chopping too close to the bone when you pare down that word count, but it can often be for the better. When unnecessary words or leaves are pared back, the story/plant is much healthier for it. Rather than trying to sustain the extra growth, like favourite chapters that don't add to the plot, once the dead weight is gone, the rest of your work can truly shine.


The Importance of Diligence

If we don't leave several hours a week to care for the garden, it will run loose and grow into a tangled rat's nest, if there was a plant-equivalent. You have to be constantly on top of it, and I feel as though this applies to stories as well; if you aren't diligent about how often you write, it's easy to feel drowned in all you have to do. Regular work, even a little bit at a time, keeps you and your story going without anything becoming overgrown or terrifying (like looming deadlines). 



Protect What You Grow

I have two strawberry bushes, and the first season they started growing fruit, it was a battle with the birds everyday to protect the fresh strawberries. Often they would peck holes into them just before they were ready for human consumption, meaning I hadn't taken them off the bush yet, but the birds could have a go at them. The solution? A make-shift netting system that allowed sun and water in, but kept bird beaks from sneaking in bites. It worked! The berries were mine!

Don't be afraid to protect the story that you're writing; of course we need to eventually share them and let others experience them too, but there are certain stories, especially that mean the world to us, that could make us feel vulnerable. When sharing that story, know how to protect yourself while allowing the good things, the encouragement and inspiration, to flow in.


The Best are the Surprises

There are probably over ten beautiful flowers that are/have grown into our garden beds that weren't there when we moved in. Or there the first year. Seeds and bulbs have the amazing talent of being able to live in the soil, quiet until they feel nourished, and then they can spread and shine.

Ideas can be like this too; sometimes ideas will pop up, and we believe we don't know where they came from, but all this time, they've been slowly stretching to life in the soil of our minds. The right conditions, the right tender care of the soil will allow them to bloom. Don't be afraid of these surprising ideas; you've probably kept their company for much longer than you think. They're part of you. So nourish them, don't seek to throw out any idea or plant you don't recognise. Surprises are often the most beautiful of what can grow.




Feed, Feed, Feed

Good soil needs to be full of nutrients, if your plants are going to live. It's incredible what fertiliser can do for a plant; within a day it can turn yellow and saggy leaves into strong, bright green leaves. The more its fed, the happier it is.

The same is true for creatives. We can't expect ourselves to constantly be inspired, constantly have ideas, when we're trying to suck nutrients out of soil (our minds) that aren't there. This is the importance of letting ourselves be creatively fed; give yourself days where you just read, where you go on a walk, where you catch up with a friend rather than being hunched over your keyboard. The more you tend your mind, the better ideas that will grow from it.



Thanks for listening me half-ramble about my garden today! I hope that these lessons I've learnt might help you too. Do you have a garden? How do you creatively feed yourself? How's your writing going?
Have a wonderful day! <3 

Somehow it is already July, if you can believe it. Its sudden arrival is just as alarming to me as the fact that this year has been a pretty...

Somehow it is already July, if you can believe it. Its sudden arrival is just as alarming to me as the fact that this year has been a pretty solid reading year! So far I've read 36 books, and am halfway through my 37th, which is about double my usual average. To celebrate my bulging bookshelves, I thought I'd join in the Mid Year Book Freak Out tag sweeping the book community!



1. Best book you’ve read so far in 2019.

Hands-down, 'Dance of Thieves' by Mary E. Pearson. It's everything I look for in a fantasy novel: lush, vibrant, and unique worldbuilding that affects the characters, tension and conflict in romance and friendship, relatable characters, and exquisite writing. And do you see its cover? Simply gorgeous. Go read this book right now; you will not regret it.

2. Best sequel you've read so far in 2019.

I only read one sequel this year, but it was fantastic: 'Worlds Beneath' by K.A. Emmons. It's so hard to put this book into words, but it's deep, impactful, and has characters that will twist your heart out of your chest. I'm eagerly awaiting the third book being released this year.

3. New release you haven't read yet, but want to.

'We Hunt the Flame' by Hafsah Faizal sounds fantastic, and is waiting patiently on my TBR stack (read: mountain) for me. It seems to be promising two characters who have to work against or with each other, with high stakes, so I can't wait to crack it open!

4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year.

'The Queen of Nothing' by Holly Black. Once I recover from happiness that its publication date was moved to this year, I'll probably be incredibly impatient to read it. I can't say much because spoilers, but what an ending for 'The Wicked King'. Wow. 

5. Biggest disappointment.

I'm probably going to be very unpopular right now, but sadly, 'Aurora Rising' by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman. It could very well be a 'it's not you, it's me' situation, but I didn't connect to any of the characters, except maybe the one who had a few very brief POV chapters. The story felt a lot less tense than the Illuminae Files, and less original as well.

6. Biggest surprise.

'Sadie' by Courtney Summers. I'd heard great things, but I practically never read in this genre, so I was unsure if it would deliver. Wow did it ever. The book is tense, feels incredibly real, and crushes all your emotions.

7. Favourite new author. (Debut or new to you)

Brigid Kemmerer won my heart with 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely'. It's a wonderful retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and I wish the characters could be my friends, honestly. She's written contemporaries as well, which are on my TBR pile!

8. Newest fictional crush.

Ummm... I don't particularly 'crush' on characters, but Nathaniel Thorn from Maragaret Rogerson's 'A Sorcery of Thorns' made me laugh more than once. I would willingly have a banter-off with him.

9. Newest favourite character.

This is incredibly difficult. If I had to choose, I might say Grey from 'A Curse So Dark and Lonely'. He's so, so loyal and an amazing friend. He is the kind of guy you always want by your side in life.

10. Book that made you cry.

I haven't cried reading this year, but that's not unusual. 'The Boy Who Steals Houses' by C.G. Drews came very close to it though. Heart = crushed.

11. Book that made you happy.

'Dance of Thieves' once again, mostly because I finished reading it, flopped onto my bed and grinned, thinking 'that's the kind of book I want to write'.

12. Most beautiful book you've bought so far this year (or received).

'The Priory of the Orange Tree' by Samantha Shannon is stunning. It's a monstrous size, but the colours are vibrant and the dragon so detailed on it.


13. What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

I don't have any 'need' to read books, per se, so I'll list my physically already-bought TBR staring at me from my bedside table: 'Wicked Like a Wildfire' by Lana Popovic, 'Wolf by Wolf' by Ryan Graudin, 'We Hunt the Flame' by Hafsah Faizal, 'Call It What You Want' by Brigid Kemmerer, and 'Girls of Paper and Fire' by Natasha Ngan.



Tell me about your reads so far this year! Which book is your favourite, and which ones have proved disappointing? Have any made you cry?
Happy reading! <3