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Tips for Submitting to an Anthology

Tips for Submitting to an Anthology

For the curators of, The Final Summons we encountered a lot of firsts. While none of us are slouches when it comes to publishing and the written word, taking on a leadership role provided a unique insight into the world of submissions. We received more submissions than we originally anticipated and the caliber of writing ranged from poetically perfect to rough draft at best. However, we poured through them, discussing the merits of each story and how it would combine into a cohesive anthology. We fought passionately for the stories we loved and had to make tough decisions. There were victories, many of them, but there were also a series of eye rolls that had us asking, “What were they thinking?” We wanted to provide some insight into this newly discovered world that we think will help authors in submitting short stories for anthologies.

Follow the Guidelines.

It sounds simple, but we were shocked by how many people didn’t follow the guidelines. We clearly stated you must be a member of the New England Speculative Writers and located in New England, yet we received submissions from across the United States. We asked authors to include some basic information such as word counts and a tag line. While we were able to fill in the gaps as necessary, the extra work made us move these titles to the bottom of the slush pile. Imagine a publisher receiving hundreds of entries? The fastest way to get rid of the muck (even the best written muck in existence) is to see if an author did these basic steps. If they haven’t, it’s a way to be stricken before you’re even read.

It gets trickier when it comes to “theme” or the anthology “vision.” We left our topic extremely broad to give writers the most latitude possible. However, some of the stories were so off topic it was obvious they were written for another anthology. Some of the stories never even came close to reaching the theme. We got aggravated when an author wasted our time with a story that had no business being submitted. Now unfortunately, those authors’ names are associated with that aggravation. It means the next time they submit, they walk in with a strike against them. So when submitting, make sure it hits the theme squarely enough that you leave a good impression. Previously submitted stories are welcome, even encouraged, but they need to be on “brand.” This might require a little bit of rewriting or tidying up a plot. The extra effort shows.

Short vs. Epic.

The most common thing we said while reading the submissions was, “This isn’t a short story, it’s a condensed novel.” There were some great stories to be had, but some of them weren’t short stories, not even by a long shot. Epic tales are amazing, but they need the room to breathe, develop, and flush out an intense plot. We sent several stories back with notes suggesting that the author take the story and use it as a building block for a lengthy epic tale. The stories were good, some even compelling and wonderful, but they need more than 7,000 words.

With such a tiny word allotment (and let’s be honest, some of us write 100,000 novels that only touch the tip of the iceberg) these epic tales won’t work. In a short story, the world building has to be done in a manner that works alongside the story and not a heap of information at the start. Submissions that started with an uncanny amount of “info dumping” put us on alert. We didn’t need to know the background of the world, how it came to be, or why magic/technology was at its current incarnation. Sometimes the mystery of not knowing is even more alluring. We need a single character (or perhaps two) to exist in a world that we experienced through them. If they don’t meet elves along their journey, there’s almost no point in mentioning them (even if you know they exist in this world.)

Listen & Digest.

We decided at the start that no matter what we read, we’d provide positive feedback to the author. We believed this to be an essential part of the process with New England Speculative Writers. Sometimes we focused on mechanics, sometimes it was centered around plot, it all depended on the author and what their work needed. Never once did we feel that a story was unsalvageable.

We understand that veteran authors have resources, such as beta readers, critique groups, even editors working with them when they prepare to submit short stories. We are not them. We are a set of virgin eyes, exploring your world (and often your writing) for the first time. We come in without bias wanting the very best of your characters and your plot. We aren’t on the hunt for perfection (not a single story was accepted without feedback) we are on the hunt for potential. With work, passion, and an open mind, even the flattest characters can be rounded and rocky stories can be smoothed. When an author criticizes our feedback, it says two things instantly: 1) I’m difficult to work with or 2) I’m incapable of being a team player.

Having submitted to dozens of anthologies, we know that most often, you receive a form letter. This goes for agents and publishers as well. So when an agent/editor/publisher gives you advice, you don’t have to take it, but you do have to stop and consider it. Are they speaking accurately? Truthfully? Are they offering words to uplift your story? Many people wrote back when they resubmitted saying, “I liked your first two points, but I tried your third and it just didn’t work.” We’re not perfect either, but when we get responses saying somebody has attempted our suggestion we see “TEAM PLAYER” and it excites us to build a relationship. Don’t burn your bridges.

Ask Questions.

This is a double edge sword. You need information, but you don’t want to pester. We found both sides of this happened while we were open for submissions. We had forthright questions, “Do you see any gaps in your submissions?” all the way to, “I have a pitch, can I get feedback?” We responded to as many as we could with as much information as we could. But there came a point when some of the questions stopped being about needing information and turned into needing validation.

Ask a question if you must. But remember you are one of dozens of emails each day. When it became obvious some of the emails were essentially asking us for a plot so they could write the story, we ceased communication. Needing facts is very different from needing creative energy. Ask facts. Be specific, be clear, and be concise. If time allows, you’ll receive a similar answer. However, if your answer requires time, energy, and especially creative energy, you might be overstepping boundaries.

Ask questions through the proper channels. Yes, we have twitter and Facebook which allow us instant access. Some of the authors even have our cell phone numbers. Text and you’re dead to us. Shoot a fast message on Facebook, we’ll try to respond. Put it in the official email, then it feels like business and we want to foster professional relationships, so that gets the fastest (and most thorough) answers. Seeking out on social media is okay if you’re tight with the editor, but don’t abuse it. Some of us only use Facebook to swap recipes with our moms. Social media is still not considered a professional line of communication (your mileage may vary with this statement.)

Patience is a Must.

In the fast paced world of self-publishing, an author can finish writing a book and have it published in days. Even micro publishers move within months where the old model of traditional publishing can take years. Times are changing and with deadlines and quick production, there is a sense of urgency. “Did I get in?” “Any word?” “When will the decision be made?” The more these questions are asked, the more stress/pressure goes on the publisher. We’re not saying don’t ask, it’s important to your livelihood to know these things, but give it time. Even with forty submissions, it took us nearly two months to read and provide feedback. As each of us have full-time jobs, as do many small presses and free lance editors. We spent every available moment reading and making comments. The editorial process takes time.

With many self published authors simply putting their book online and wondering why sales aren’t taking off, it needs to be a constant reminder that success takes time as well. Curating and providing feedback is only half the job. We spent countless hours preparing a marketing plan on how to fund, produce, and market our anthology. We set the publish date a year into the future to allow time for editing, cover production and pre-orders. Always feel free to ask what the “plan” is, but be aware, the time-table might not be a mad dash to the finish line.

 

We debated on what should go onto this list. We had many other thoughts and considerations, but these we felt were a universal truth with our anthology and beyond. As always, we want to watch our authors flourish, so we hope this bit of insight behind the scenes of The Final Summons, helps guide your hand in future anthology submissions!

How Improv Comedy Helped My Writing

How Improv Comedy Helped My Writing

Like most who know about the artform, I was introduced to improv comedy from the famed TV show Who’s Line Is It Anyway? Despite many of the references going over my young head at the time it first aired, I still found myself bursting at the seams with laughter at the off-the-cuff antics of the performers.

In high school, I was fortunate enough to participate in an improv club, where we not only played games, but also took field trips to performances and studied techniques from professionals.

While I was goofing off in a cloud of gawky adolescence, I was ignorant to the fact that improv was not only teaching me how to think on my feet, but also how to tell stories. And one day it clicked that the beauty of improv, as well as the core of storytelling, is all about engagement. Whether you are performing or observing in the audience, improv is a hands-on experience, much like the worlds you build in your narrative and the relationship you have with your readers.

It was only later in adulthood that I realized I was inadvertently applying these skills in my D&D gaming sessions. It started simple enough with my character creation (and giving my GMs headaches with grotesquely detailed backstories), then evolving further when I started DMing myself. Eventually, it got to the point where I chucked the rulebooks out the window and ran completely diceless campaigns.

After making this connection, I was able to apply my knowledge to large scale writing projects and develop the eyesight to become my own content editor. (NOTE: Don’t depend entirely on your own skills for content editing if you can help it. I am saying I was able to recognize enough to save work for someone else).

These skills not only helped with the writing aspect, but also the business side of being a “Competent Author™.”  Elevator pitches, networking and relationships, public speaking etc. All of this can be improved upon with a flight from the seat of the pants.

But performance, no matter how small the audience, is much easier said than done, especially if you have anxiety. With practice and a few quick, short-worded sentences tucked in your belt, you can excuse yourself from overwhelming situations:

“Hey, this was a great conversation, but I really need to be elsewhere right now.”

“Thanks for chatting! I’m headed to another appointment, but maybe we can continue later?”

Whether it’s true or not, it’s great to have some pre-fabricated exits. However, I am speaking through my personal experience, and not everyone can find this helpful.

If you want to start off with playing improv games, try it out with a few close friends just to get a feel of the mechanics. The more you practice in a safe environment, the easier it may become for you. Remember, your replies will NOT sound polished. In fact, they will be clumsy and awkward until you learn what bits of your personal conversation filter can be shut off at will.

And that’s okay! Improv is not supposed to be polished, it’s supposed to be messy and random. A lot of the most noteworthy moments can come from spouting off the first thing that comes to mind (in both good and bad contexts). Just like editing a draft, polish comes later with time and practice.

A good first-time game is called “One Word,” where participants take turns telling a story one word at a time. Put a little flair on it by adding a theme or setting to help keep everyone focused. Make a space adventure and tell the story of a first alien encounter. Perhaps an opposing kingdom is beating down the gates to your castle, what happens next?

A quick google search of “Improv Comedy Games” will bring you a slew of options, but here’s a pair of sites with great examples to get you started:

http://www.bringyourownimprov.com/games.htm

http://improvencyclopedia.org/games/

Many games can be tailored to fiction, adding genre spins to suit whichever you want to practice. Focus on setting and character creation, or even use the Question Game (make a conversation only using questions) to practice your dialogue development.

Introduce exercises in your next writing group meetings or convention mixers as an icebreaker. But please be mindful of those with social anxiety and be respectful to members not participating! Improv requires a certain level of trust, and some may not feel comfortable for whatever reason they may or may not feel like sharing. Do not take it personally if you get rejected but be sure to leave the door open for those who want to try.

And on that note, another vital skill learned through improv is the ability to read the room. Improv is not just about spouting off the first thing that comes to your head. It’s also about learning the dynamics and knowledge base of the participants as well as the audience.

For example, any games involving song titles or movies may leave some players out because they don’t partake in popular media. It is also advisable to stray away from politically charged topics in a new setting until everyone is familiar with each other. It will take some experimentation to determine everyone’s comfort levels, as well as what types of games everyone excels at. Play off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Ultimately, have fun with improv whether you apply it to your writing or not! It’s a fantastic way to practice interactions and storytelling while enjoying time with others both in and out of the industry. And most importantly, don’t be too serious when playing. It is comedy, after all.

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

This celebratory month of women in speculative fiction has seen posts  on many topics all of which come back to a central important issue – inclusion. I write in an area of fantasy that is often relegated to the back burner in the sci-fi/fantasy community and among writers in general: romance. Yes, romance is frequently the red-headed step child at the family reunion, but I can’t help it. Love and relationships are always the focus of my writing.

Most of my published work would be classified as either paranormal romance or romantic fantasy with many of these being in the category of retold fairy tales. It’s a genre I’ve loved for decades and while it generally finds a lot of success with the reading public, many people I meet have an easier time believing in mermaids and magic than love or happy endings. (New England is especially known for this – romance sells the lowest in this part of the country).

And yet…

What can be more basic, more interesting, and more revealing than how we choose and treat our closest relationships?  When as writers we create worlds we need to ask ourselves about the mating, pairing and parental relationships that exist in this new world. When we read, if these things are left out or ignored, something about the world seems off, lacking.

Certainly the various movements including #metoo, #timesup and #ownvoices show that how we interact with one another, how we include those who identify differently from us, has a lasting impact on current and future generations. Speculative fiction gives writers and readers an amazing opportunity to look at the truth of these relationships – the problematic and the healthy – from new perspectives which can help us understand our own.  Look at the recent resurgence in popularity of The Handmaids Tale, science fiction which puts relationships at the core. No, it’s not a romance. This is a world where there is no place for romance – and look at the results of that.

I know that in my own writing, when I work in a paranormal world, I look at what rules I no longer have to adhere to, where I can get creative, and where can I build something completely new – something that reflects what I believe is the best a relationship can bring to an individual.

And yet…

We still have challenges when presenting these relationships either in books or film. From Sleeper to Demolition Man to Gattaca science fiction and fantasy movies show what might be different in the future when it comes to the challenges of love, sex and relationships on other worlds and in other futures. Many make it comical (when I asked about this on Facebook a friend reminded me of Barbarella), some eliminated it all together.  But at the end of the recent blockbuster hit Wonder Woman she extols the value of love and how this aspect of who we are is one of the things that make us worth saving.

Would you like some recommendations? My favorite fantasy author who looks at the importance and influence relationships have on our lives and our world is Anne Bishop. All of her books explore romantic relationships, but the Black Jewels trilogy (and beyond) is particularly amazing as is her Others series. And if in your fantasies you want vampires, then Joey W. Hill’s Vampire Queen series is one of the hottest series I’ve ever read.

I have come to believe that we brush love and all it stands for aside at our own peril. It deserves to be a priority, not a second thought, not something relegated to the silly or trivial. Certainly not something called “girly”. Anyone who has felt and expressed a wide range of emotions knows – emotions are not for the faint of heart. They require great strength and they show the strength of those who experience them.

As Diana says at the end of Wonder Woman, there is darkness and light in all of us and only love can truly save the world. I agree.

 


A Jersey Girl trapped without good diners or boardwalks in New England, Rachel Kenley is the author of eight romance novels, most recently the Melusine’s Daughters trilogy. Rachel started reading romances at 14 and credits them with her lifelong fascination with relationships and how they contribute to our ability to go for our dreams. When she is not writing she is homeschooling her sons, trying unsuccessfully to keep up with laundry, and laughing as much as possible.  She believes in shameless flirting, finding pleasure in the everyday, never missing the chance to watch The Wizard of Oz and the emotional and economic power of retail therapy. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and at www.rachelkenley.net where you can also sign up for her newsletter.

Tricks For Self-Editing

Tricks For Self-Editing

Like any craft, writing is a world of its own. There are rules that must be followed, and rules that may be broken. While being creative is esoteric, and may be something you are born with, learning the craft of writing is just like learning any other craft. There’s a lot of nuts and bolts information you need to absorb. Good grammar is the first one, but it takes much more than proper spelling and sentence structure to write a good story. Story structure, character development, pacing, building tension: these are all building blocks of our fictional creations. There are tricks and methods to all of these, but for this blog, I’m going to share a few tips on self-editing.

Read Aloud

So, okay, this one is not exactly a newsflash. It’s actually one of the most well-known bits of advice floating around the writing universe. This not only helps you find errors and clunky parts, it’s also a great way to find the rhythm of your words. The tip here? You don’t actually physically HAVE to speak out loud. An actual out-loud read should happen at some point, but as you are writing, just read the sentences in your head, and focus on what they will—or should—sound like when spoken out loud.

Read Backwards

I don’t mean to literally read every sentence backwards, word wise. Just read backwards on the page and, when possible, the paragraph. Why? Our minds like to play tricks on us. If we read quickly, we tend to skim, which makes it really easy to mistake what is actually on the page for what we think is on the page.

Spellcheck

Spellchecking programs should never be considered the be-all, end-all of editing. They won’t catch everything, and they will at times complain about things you did on purpose. That said, you’re not doing yourself any favors by skipping this step. Spellcheck may flag a sentence that’s perfectly fine, but when you look at it more closely, you may find a better way to word it. This is also a great way to find and kill passive voice.

Mark Your Spots

Ever get stuck on a phrase or plot point, or come across something that you may need to research more? Ever wonder if you already used that piece of dialogue? Don’t get bogged down in details on your first pass. Put a special word in that doesn’t appear often in your work. I use insert, but you can use monster or chocolate or pizza or phalanges whatever. Then, go back and search those words out to find the spots you wanted to work on.

Let It Simmer

When you’ve finished a first draft, back it up, walk away, and leave it alone. Like a good wine, the story needs to simmer. I don’t know if this happens with all writers, but my back brain tends to work on things even when I’m not paying attention. This is a good time to feed your head. Look at art, listen to different music, watch documentaries. I’ve often found a plot point strike me while I was working on a different WIP. Make a note, and move on.

Don’t Take The Easy Way Out

Jack White recently posted an interview where he said that ‘As an artist, your job is not to take the easy way out.’ You want a best-selling novel? You have to write a novel that is good enough to be a best seller. That means setting high standards for yourself. That means picturing your book as an excellent novel, and then stepping into that space. Always, always look for ways to improve your book and fill plot holes.

Don’t Be Afraid To Make Multiple Passes

Some stories are ‘born’ in more or less one shot. Others grow slowly. I tend to be a bit OCD about editing, and edit things at least 4 or 5 times. At least. I have one WIP that’s been edited probably 20-30 times. You don’t want to go overboard here, as you may find yourself editing the same thing over and over. The old saying about art never being finished, only abandoned, is true. That said, do one more pass than you think you need to.

Kill Your Darlings

I can’t take credit for this one, as it’s an old adage, originally attributed to Faulkner. I blew this one off for a long time. And then, all of a sudden, I got it. Just because you can write a long, beautiful sentence, or a perfect paragraph describing someone’s car or clothes doesn’t mean you need to. If it serves the story, fine. But trim the fat. This also means boil down your sentences and paragraphs. Chop filler words and phrases, and let the story shine through. Go in with the intention of cutting.

Save The Bodies

Ever find yourself cutting a scene or chapter that doesn’t fit? It may work in another piece. Keep files for bigger cuts.

Have A Saving System

One rite of passage that many writers share is the pain of lost work. Computer crashes, missing thumb drives, whatever. I learned this lesson the hard way. I now have my auto-save settings set to two minutes. (I can deal with losing two minutes of work in a worst-case scenario.) I also save the file with the date in the name. This is because I used to save new versions by adding things like ‘Final’ into the name. That sounded like a good idea at first, until I ended up staring at multiple versions of a WIP with things like ‘Final,’ ‘ReallyFinal,’ ‘Final Copy,’ and even ‘UsethisFinal’ incorporated into the names. Don’t do this.

Fall Into The Story

Editing shouldn’t all be about nuts and bolts. At some point, you need to let your muse or your creative side play too. Make a playlist, light some candles, do whatever you need to do.

Listen To Yourself

If a scene or character isn’t capturing your attention, it probably won’t grab a reader, either. At the end of the day, some things just don’t work. Don’t kill a story trying to fix it. Let it sit, or walk away.


Morgan Sylvia is an Aquarius, a metalhead, a coffee addict, a beer snob, and a work in progress. A former obituarist, she is now working as a full-time freelance writer. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several places, including Wicked Witches, Wicked Haunted, Northern Frights, Twice Upon An Apocalypse, and Endless Apocalypse. In 2013, she released Whispers From The Apocalypse, a horror poetry collection. Her first novel, Abode, was released from Bloodshot Books in July 2017 and is available on Amazon. She also writes for Antichrist Metalzine. She lives in Maine with her boyfriend, two cats, and a chubby goldfish.

Writers and their Superstitions

Writers and their Superstitions

I used to work as a union gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and makeup artist. The entertainment field is full of superstitious people. I remember all the superstitions associated with stage work like don’t whistle on stage. Actors telling each other to “break a leg” before a performance supposedly leads to good luck and a fine performance. Leaving a single lit bulb upstage center when the theater is empty is meant to ward off mischievous spirits. Anything associated with Macbeth, especially saying the word “Macbeth” in a theater, will lead to disaster. It’s the curse of Macbeth. Don’t leave peacock feathers or real money on stage or actors will forget their lines and set pieces will break.

So I wondered, what kinds of superstitions do writers have?

I don’t have any myself. I have a schedule I like to adhere to but if I miss a day or don’t start at a specific time each day I don’t panic over not being able to write. I don’t have a lucky pen or statuette or piece of clothing I must wear. Some famous writers had some downright bizarre superstitions. The closest I come to a superstition was keeping the cats away from my laptop because I was afraid they’d delete my files. That’s not really a superstition. That’s being practical.

Here are a few examples of famous writers and their superstitions:

Isabelle Allande – Always starts a new novel on January 8 because that’s the date she began her first novel, The House Of The Spirits.

John Steinbeck wrote his drafts in pencil. He kept 12 pencils on his desk, all perfectly sharpened.

John Cheever put on a suit, took the elevator with other men who were on their way to their office jobs, and he would get off in the basement. Then, he’d take off his pants and write. He said it was more comfortable.

Truman Capote refused to begin or end a work on a Friday. He also wrote lying down.

Mark Twain, George Orwell, Edith Wharton, and Marcel Proust also wrote lying down.

Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Philip Roth, and Charles Dickens wrote standing up.

Alexandre Dumas wrote his poetry on yellow paper, his fiction on blue paper, and his articles on pink paper

J. K. Rowling refused to title a story until after it was finished.

Carson McCullers wore her lucky sweater whenever she wrote.

Friedrich Schiller, friend of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, couldn’t write without the smell of rotten apples around him. I have no idea why. That one is just weird.

Superstitions have always struck me as a bit foolish, but sometimes I fall prey to them. For instance, I won’t walk beneath a ladder not so much because I believe it’s bad luck but because I’m afraid a full paint can will fall on my head and crack my skull in two. That sounds like very bad luck to me. When I was a kid and mad at my parents I would step on every crack in the sidewalk, but no one’s back ever broke. I knock on wood because I think it’s a great way to accentuate a point.

Then again, a ladybug just flew into my hair. I’m at a writer’s retreat in central Massachusetts, and I’m working on this article in a bedroom with a beautiful view of the snowy outdoors. I’ve attached a picture of my view to this blog post. How a ladybug survived the winter is beyond me, but I know they’re good luck. I’ll take whatever good luck I can get. Ah, wait, another one flew by! I feel especially lucky right now

Rather than superstitions related to writing I have rituals. I always must have something to drink nearby – most often coffee, hot tea, seltzer water, red wine, or especially champagne. I sometimes must have music on or I can’t concentrate. Other times, I need quiet.

Are you a superstitious writer? If you are, what quirks do you have that help you express your creativity? What do you do to keep disaster or writer’s block from happening?


Elizabeth Black writes horror and dark fiction as E. A. Black. Friend her on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter. Visit her Amazon Author Page.

Five Things I Learned from, Mistborn: The Final Empire, about Writing Fantasy

Five Things I Learned from, Mistborn: The Final Empire, about Writing Fantasy

Warning, this is going to contain major spoilers along with gushing praise.
If you haven’t read Brandon Sanderson’s, Mistborn, stop here, go read it, and come back later.

1. You can make old tropes new again

At this point it’s impossible to write something that’s completely trope-free. Even this blog entry you are reading at this very second is a trope-tastic masterpiece. How many people have written list posts? At least 2,546,000, probably more, because listing out your ideas in numerical order just works. It’s as common as the trope of the mean, blonde cheerleader.

The same goes for Mistborn. The tyrannical ruler oppressing the masses isn’t new. We’ve seen it more times than we’ve seen list posts. But gosh darn it, isn’t it great to have a villain we can universally hate? This is why the tyrannical ruler is a most beloved trope of fantasy writers. It’s a cause we can all rally behind. It makes us an immediate cheering squad for the protagonist, and it’s something we can recognize. Um…Hitler, Kim Jong Un, the evil Empire, and Sauron, anyone?

The Lord Ruler is definitely a card-carrying member of this club. He’s enslaved an entire race of people and makes a big party out of public hangings. But he’s more than just your standard, genocidal villain. He’s immortal, indestructible, and he’s got a backstory.

Throughout the novel, we get to see little snippets of his journal, from before he inherited his immortality and became the infamous Lord Ruler everyone loves to hate. Way back when, he was kind, thoughtful, and hopeful. He wanted to save humanity…or at least that’s what we think.

And with each reveal of his humanity, we lower our pitchforks, douse the torches, and go, “I wonder what happened to make such a nice man turn into such a monster?” And just like Luke Skywalker, we’re wondering if that former good guy is hiding behind Darth Vader’s mask. That’s the twist to the trope.

 2. Give Information through Dialogue

World-building is the bane of every fantasy writer, more so than writing a synopsis…no wait, I take that back. They might be on par, holding hands, sitting at the bar together, devising new ways to make writers miserable. But without a doubt, when I sit at a round table and give seven people my first ten pages to read, one half of the table will accuse me of info-dumping (telling them too much about the fantasy world up front,) and the other half of the table will have a list of questions of things they want to know–immediately.

You can’t win.

I think, for the most part, diehard fantasy readers will give the author a little leeway in either direction. Some stories can unload a lot of information quickly, and others string you along with little bits here and there. You might get lost along the way, but eventually, you’ll get your answer.

A common favorite is to use the novice and the expert to explain your world, or the student and the teacher, á la Harry Potter.

In Mistborn, Vin is our novice. She knows very little about Elemancy until she’s found by Kelsier who becomes her teacher. Through Kelsier and the other Mistings, we learn the rules for burning metals, the limitations, the history, the source, which metals do what, and the inner nuances of getting the most out of each one.

Every time Vin asks a question, we become the student, and the world-building is broken into depictions of the scene, snide remarks, and quippy comebacks. It’s a far superior way to share information versus listing it out like a Wikipedia entry.

3. Destroy Everything

This is a widely touted solution for writer’s block. If you get stuck, throw your character into some trouble and see what happens. We reveal our best (or worst) selves when we’re in danger. What does your character do in the middle of a bank robbery? Does she cower under the table? Or crawl toward the robber in an attempt to subdue him? Maybe she stands up and does the chicken dance in an attempt to distract him.

But our dear, Brandon Sanderson did much more than rattle the cages. He burned the entire city down–in the middle of the book. Imagine if the Empire blew up the rebel base before the rebels even got the Death Star plans.

Yeah, it was kind of like that.

There we were, on this jaunty little ride to find out if our lovable crew of thieves and miscreants would actually topple the Final Empire. They have their secret army in the caves. They’re spreading dissent through the wealthy. Everything is going to plan.

Then the army goes on a rogue hunt and ninety percent of them are killed. Whaaaat??? How can they possibly overthrow the evil regime without an army?

That’s a great question, and why I continued to tear through page after page to find the answer. It’s not uncommon for a book’s middle to be referred to as, “the muddle.” Because, frankly, that’s where a lot of authors run out of ideas and lose their readers. You want to make sure your readers keep going? Blow up the whole damn city. Put your heroes at their lowest. Destroy everything they’ve built and make them choose to give up or start from scratch. Now, not only are they righteously fighting evil, they are doing it with sticks and stones. And as much as we love to hate on the evil tyrants, we love even more to root for the underdog.

4. Really Fool your Readers

Do you hear that? It’s the sound of M. Night Shyamalan, at this very moment, cashing a stack of residual checks from the Sixth Sense, based entirely off of this very classic technique—the plot twist. If you say you didn’t audibly gasp when you found out Bruce Willis was a ghost, you are lying.

There are two reasons why Mr. Shyamalan is able to fill theatres with goosebump-covered patrons: conviction and plausibility.

There was never a doubt in our minds that Bruce was a living psychiatrist, trying to make-up for his failed patient by helping a little boy with the same affliction. But as soon as we learned the truth and went back through the scenes…well, it all made perfect sense.

The problem is, the more we get fooled, the less likely we are to get fooled again. Especially fantasy readers. We’re always ready for an intelligent AI to come crawling out of the floor or for someone to sprout wings in their sleep. It’s really, really hard to trick us.

So I take notice when someone does. Like our friend, Brandon. Through those journal entries I mentioned before, we had committed to the Lord Ruler once being a decent guy, and Kelsier had us convinced that the only way to kill him was with the eleventh metal.

Wrong, and again, wrong.

Our hopeful, all-around-good-guy and journal writer was murdered…by the current Lord Ruler, and it was that secret, not the eleventh metal that helped Vin vanquish the foe. The pieces fit, just not in any order that I expected, and that’s exactly what we all have to strive for in our work.

5. Close the Loop, but Leave a Few Fraying Ends

After spending six hundred pages with a novel, I need some closure. Don’t you dare lead me on an epic, month-long journey and literally leave me hanging at the edge of the cliff. If that’s the case, then let’s all just admit that your novel is nothing more than backstory.

The boiled-down plot for Mistborn: the Final Empire is, a ragtag gang of thieves with heart is in a battle to topple a centuries’ long tyrannical government. You better believe I expected by the end of the book to either see the Lord Ruler crush them, or for Vin and Kelsier to have the Lord Ruler’s head on a post, parading him through the city.

I won’t say which one happened, but I will say that one of them did.

Had it not, I probably would have thrown the book across the room, muttered curses under my breath, and I definitely would not be here, writing yet another list post in praise of Sanderson’s work.

But there’s more. Sanderson left questions, secondary plotlines still moving forward, the potential for more drama in the now changed world. There are reasons for me to keep reading, and because there was no cliffhanger, I’m not reading because I feel like I have to. I’m reading because I want to.

So You’ve Completed NaNoWriMo

So You’ve Completed NaNoWriMo

NaNoWroMo CrestNational Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is all about getting creative writers motivated to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, is a few days behind us, and I’ve already seen a few participants crowing about meeting their goal — which they should, because writing 50,000 words in a month is no small feat.

If you’re among the NaNoWriMo winners, good for you.

I mean that. Whether you’re doing this for the first time just for the fun of it or you’ve always wanted to take a serious crack at becoming a novelist — via traditional or self-publishing — and you’re using NaNoWriMo to light a fire under your ass and finally get it done, I hope you found it an exciting and rewarding experience.

Now comes the “however” part…

I’ve known a few people who did in fact attempt to parlay their NaNoWriMo product into a published novel and failed hard, and what I’ve gleaned from their efforts is they made a critical mistake of thinking that once the novel was completed, all they had to do was run spellcheck and that would be it — their novel was finished.

No. No no no. Your work has only just begun.

First of all, your story might not actually be finished. If your larger goal was to produce a proper novel, you probably still have some writing to do. Depending on your genre, 50,000 words might only be a novella — which isn’t a bad thing, and maybe 50,000 words is the right length for the story you’re telling, but if you plan to seek an agent or traditional publisher for your work, you might want to think about going beyond 50,000 words.

This piece by Chuck Sambuchino is a great reference for defining novel lengths, and you’ll see that once you start writing for any adult market, 50,000 words isn’t going to cut it as a “novel.”

But let’s say you have produced a finished work. If November was National Novel Writing Month, December should be National Novel Revising Month. This is when you take your finished first draft, read through it, and recoil in horror at how truly unfinished it is. You’re going to find spelling errors, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, continuity gaps, plot holes, inconsistent characterization, clunky dialog — all manner of major and minor screw-ups. Suddenly, the literary masterpiece you think you wrote will turn into a steaming pile of crap that will make you doubt your talents as a writer.

Welcome to the world of writing.

First drafts aren’t about producing a finished work; it’s about getting the ideas out of your head and onto the screen. Second drafts are about replacing or scrapping entirely everything that’s wrong with the story and strengthening everything that does work. Since you’ve given yourself a month to do this, take your time. Go through the manuscript a few times and keep fine-tuning it.

No, you’re not done yet, because January is National Novel Test-Reading Month. This is when you send your manuscript to some trusted friends to look it over and tell you what they think. Four to six people is a good number of beta testers, but make sure you choose people who will be brutally honest with you. You don’t want their praise, you want their criticism. You want them to tell you what still isn’t working so you can fix it in February, which is National Novel Revising Month – The Sequel.

Don’t undersell the importance of this step. By now you’ve gotten a little too familiar with your novel and aren’t seeing a lot of flaws anymore. Outside eyes will catch the problems that have become invisible to you.

And don’t dismiss this as “art by committee.” Just because your readers make suggestions, you’re not obligated to heed them — though you’d be foolish to ignore them out of hand. Think about their critiques long and hard before you make a decision one way or the other.

While the book is out with your test-readers, you can consider whether you want to try and pursue a traditional publishing avenue or go the indie author route. Each approach has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, so consider what you need, want, and hope to get out of putting your book out there, and see which path fits better. Personally, even if you decide to go with self-publishing, going through the process of preparing your book for submission to agents and publishers is a good experience. It’ll help get you in a professional mindset, you’ll learn how to concisely describe your book and pitch it to a prospective reader — something you’ll have to do a lot as an indie author — and who knows? Maybe you’ll get picked up.

You can find an extensive list of publishers and agents in the Writer’s Digest market guide, along with many helpful hints for putting a submission package together. I’d also advise checking out the SFWA Writer Beware page, especially if you go looking at small presses. There are a lot of predatory small presses out there, as well as self-publishing platforms that falsely present themselves as small presses, and the last thing you want is to unwittingly give up the rights to the novel you worked so hard on.

If you decide to pursue indie authorship, this is a good time to start hunting down editors and cover artists — two things you do not want to skimp on. You want someone with a professional eye to review your finished manuscript for any lingering errors and perhaps make final suggestions for tweaking this and that, and you want a real artist to put together an eye-catching cover that will attract readers’ attention.

Services such as CreateSpace can help you put together a prefab cover that looks decent, and for little to no money, but if this what you choose to do, tread carefully, and never assume your skills as a graphic artist are sufficient to the task. Go check out LousyBookCovers.com to see what happens when a cover misfires if you need further convincing that hiring a professional is the right call.

Yes, these people will cost you money but it’s worth the investment. If you can’t pay for them out of pocket, crowdfunding may be your salvation — but again, do your research to find out what makes a successful crowdfunding campaign or you’ll hit a brick wall pretty fast.

Assuming you’ve managed to stay on schedule so far, dedicate March to preparing everything while your editor does his/her thing. Get your submissions list ready — or, if you’re self-publishing, make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with your chosen platforms, because preparing a novel for publishing is a major undertaking in and of itself. Write your cover/query letter, synopsis, and any other required submission materials. If you need to, go back into your manuscript and fix any lingering problems, even if it pushes your timeline back (unless you want to be embarrassed by putting out a novel that isn’t ready for public consumption).

Once all your ducks are in a row, once all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed, it’s time to face the scariest part of the process: pulling the trigger and actually submitting the novel to agents/publishers or releasing it via your chosen self-publishing platform. Trust me, it’s terrifying, but take the leap. The worst you can do is fail, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

There’s a LOT more to do once the book is out there — marketing, promotions, publicity, etc. — but that’s a dissertation for another time.

Final word of advice, which is admittedly a bit of a personal pet peeve: don’t use NaNoWriMo as a promotional point. I’ve seen self-published books that are pitched to readers as a “NaNoWriMo Award-Winning Novel,” but that’s perhaps the least impressive “award” you could claim. It doesn’t speak to your story’s quality at all, it just means is you wrote a 50,000-word first draft in 30 days, so don’t start out your career by slapping disingenuous awards on your book.

4 Sword Myths For Writers

4 Sword Myths For Writers

Swords are fun!

No, really — they are. I’ve gotten to play with a variety of them, from several different time periods, as a regular stage combat performer with New England-area renaissance faires, and they’re all a blast — even if (or perhaps especially because) it’s all fake.

Along the way I’ve learned a great deal about real-life swordplay from people far more educated about such matters than I, and I’ve put that knowledge to good use in my fantasy work, crafting swordfights that are exciting and dynamic but still well-grounded in reality. On the down side, it’s become a lot harder for me to enjoy swordfights in fiction because I’ve become too aware of how under-informed the general public is about how swords function in practical use.

So I’m going to share a few things I’ve learned over the years, and I’m going to start with this major caveat: do not take anything I say here as gospel. I’ve researched and continue to research period martial arts and weapons work, but there is always going to be new information out there — or different takes on existing data. You see, historians are an argumentative lot, and those who specifically study ancient arms are no different. You want to see sparks fly? Gather together a group of sword experts and ask them whether it’s best to parry an attack with the flat of the blade or the edge, and then stand back and enjoy the show.

The point is, someone somewhere is going to have a differing opinion about the information I’m presenting, and they’re not necessarily going to be wrong — but they’re not necessarily going to be completely right, either. Use this feature as a starting point for your own research and decide for yourself what works best for your storytelling purposes.

MYTH #1: Swords are heavy

Here’s something you can try at home. Grab a gallon jug of milk or water and swing it around vigorously for five minutes. Exhausting, isn’t it?

That’s why a typical medieval longsword weighs only about three pounds on average. The people using them are going to be swinging them for a long time, and a heavy sword is going to wear the user out more quickly—especially if they have the added burden of armor weighing them down. That isn’t to say there weren’t heavy swords, but A) even big pieces of steel (so-called “great swords”) such as the Scottish claymore or the German zweihander weren’t as heavy as you might expect, and B) these swords had very specific purposes and required different techniques. They were not everyday all-purpose weapons.

Related note: a common sword feature often called a “blood groove” has nothing to do with providing a victim’s blood with a handy channel to run down, thus accelerating his untimely demise (yes, that is a common misconception) or making the sword easier to withdraw from a human body. The proper name for this feature is the “fuller,” and its purpose is to lighten the weapon without compromising its strength.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

When you give your character a sword, there are a lot of factors to consider, but there is one key question you need to ask: what sword best suits the character and what he needs the weapon for? A rapier or court sword isn’t necessarily going to make sense in the hands of a large, strong, slow character, just like a claymore wouldn’t make sense in the hands of a small, fast character. You wouldn’t arm a character with a short sword if you’re going to pit him against cavalry, and you wouldn’t want a character hefting a zweihander if he’s expecting to be fighting in a confined space.

Other factors such as the time period, geographic region, etc., will also factor in, but I’m a big believer in starting with the character and building from there.

Regardless of the character and the context, do your research on the weapon you have in mind so you can portray its use correctly.

MYTH #2: Swords are sharp

I’m sure if you think about it, you can name at least one movie or TV show or book in which a warrior neatly slices through an armored limb with his mighty sword.

Yeah, no.

A sword was once described to me as a sharp hammer. It has an edge, and under the right conditions it can indeed cleave through a person, but it is not a magical Ginsu that could slice neatly through one layer of plate steel armor, the chainmail beneath that, the gambeson (a thick padded jacket) beneath that, the flesh and muscle and bone of a human limb, and then through another layer of gambeson and armor.

(Unless, of course, it is a magical weapon, but that is a different matter.)

Could the edge penetrate armor by cutting? Yes, but that is not a universal result of taking a sword to armor. Sometimes the damage would be blunt force trauma. It depends on the weapon, the user, the armor he’s facing, and the circumstances of the fight.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

Swords are surprisingly complex tools. You do yourself as a writer a disservice by not learning as much as you can about them so you can portray their use convincingly and correctly while still wringing maximum dramatic effect from them.

This can lead to some fun changes in how you construct fight scenes. Readers love a dramatic death blow that takes a villain’s head off, but if the villain in question is wearing a helmet that partially covers the throat and/or a gorget (a piece of neck armor), that final sword blow might not be so final after all — or it will break the bad guy’s neck rather than cut through it, which I’d argue makes the death stroke that much more brutal.

Again, you’ll have to do some research, particularly when you introduce armor to the mix. Chainmail (or, for you purists, maile) armor is designed to prevent cutting damage so a sword’s edge isn’t going to penetrate — but that same armor isn’t going to be worth a damn against a stabbing attack or the blunt force trauma that comes from a blow of any kind. Know your weapons, know your armor, and know how they all interact with each other.

MYTH #3: Katanas are awesome

First, let’s all acknowledge that the plural of katana is “katana” — if you’re speaking Japanese or a Japanese speaker is saying the word in English, but for us Muricans, “katanas” is acceptable as the plural form.

Now that that’s out of the way…

Katanas are probably the most iconic sword type in pop culture, and they’ve become almost mythic in nature. Unfortunately, how they’re portrayed in pop culture is almost pure myth, and it’s largely Hollywood’s fault.

Even their creation is less impressive than you’ve been led to believe. You might have heard katanas were folded hundreds of times in the smithing process, but that’s not true. They were only folded a dozen times or so, and that was a purely practical technique to strengthen the blade by hammering out the excess carbon in the cheap pig-iron (called tamahagane) available to smiths. It wasn’t about creating an edge that could slice through anything; it was about making swords that wouldn’t break on their first use.

Katanas were also not the samurai’s weapon of first choice. Rather, it would come out after better options such as the longbow and spear had failed or were impractical for the circumstances.

How they’re used in pop culture bears little resemblance to real-world techniques. They were designed for fast cutting, and if you watch an actual master swordsman in action, they flick the sword similarly to how you’d flick a fishing rod.

Blocking and parrying with a katana? Not so fast. Take a hit on the edge and you ding it up badly, making it less effective for its intended purpose. Take a hit on the flat and you risk snapping the blade, which is thinner compared to medieval longswords, which could take a solid hit on the flat.

(Cue historian argument in three, two…)

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

The katana as audiences know it is so ingrained in the collective consciousness, a writer could portray its use as we’re all accustomed to and few people — mostly pedantic sorts like me — would question it.

But if you want a challenge, research how katanas were actually used in battle and throw your reader a curve ball — but don’t be surprised if the masses then chastise you for “not knowing how a katana works.” Sometimes, reality isn’t your best option.

MYTH #4: Swords make a cool “SHRING!” sound whenever drawn.

No. They don’t.

Scabbards are typically made of leather or wood. Neither of these materials make a metallic “SHRING!” sound when a steel sword is dragged along them.

Just saying.

And why can’t someone have a steel scabbard, you ask? Well, they could, but why would they want one? It’s heavier, and the repeated act of drawing and sheathing a sword would dull the edge quickly. More likely, a warrior would have a leather or wooden scabbard with decorative caps of brass or bronze — or, yes, iron or steel — but they wouldn’t make contact with the blade in the interest of preserving the edge.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

Here’s the thing: fiction, especially visual media, throws in a lot of dramatic flourishes that enhance the mood of a moment but, if you stop to think about them, make no sense whatsoever, and the metallic ringing sound of a sword being drawn is one of them. It’s the period equivalent of cocking a firearm for dramatic effect (even though doing so actually achieves something in the case of a firearm, i.e., chambering a round).

As with the katana, audiences have been trained to accept, even expect these moments, so chances of getting called out are minimal, but audiences are also getting savvier every day. Tropes that used to slide on by unnoticed are becoming distractions.

Knowing where, when, and how to add some sizzle to your steak, even if that sizzle is complete nonsense, is part of the craft of effective storytelling. If a sizzle moment adds value to the narrative, add it, but if it risks distracting readers and taking them out of the story, reconsider it.

BONUS NON-SWORD MYTH, MAYBE: Flails were common medieval weapons

The flail — a solid, sometimes spiked iron or steel ball at the end of a chain, usually attached to a handle — might not be a real weapon.

This theory, that the flail was either a ceremonial instrument historians mistook for a weapon or was completely made up and had no real-world basis whatsoever, popped up within the last few years, causing no small amount of controversy among historians.

I’m inclined to side with flail deniers mostly because I’ve used flails in shows and they are wildly impractical weapons.

Here’s another home experiment. Remember that gallon jug from the first myth? Once it’s empty (very important), tie it to a two-foot length of rope or twine to create a crude flail. Now, find a target — a tree, your fridge, a willing volunteer — and hit it with your flail. You’ll notice that even with something as light as an empty plastic jug, you get some satisfying impact. It’s easy to imagine how much damage you could do if that jug was a steel ball.

Now step back from the target and swing your flail. Notice what happens when you miss.

That’s right: it comes right back at you — and there’s no way to stop it.

If you’ve got an argument brewing about how the flail could be made a viable weapon, I’ll direct you to this great article by Paul Sturtevant (https://www.publicmedievalist.com/curious-case-weapon-didnt-exist/), but I’ll reiterate as a past flail user: they suck as weapons.

HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO WRITING?

A friend of mine once observed that in genre fiction (sci-fi, horror, fantasy), audiences are happy to accept big ideas like dragons and magic without questioning them but will get hung up on details based in what we consider universal reality. If you tell your readers the main character is a fireball-throwing sorcerer, they’ll buy that, but if you tell the audience your character once survived two weeks in a dungeon without any food or water, they’ll call you on it.

Impractical weapons are a trope of modern fantasy, and as a rule readers will go along with it if you lay the groundwork properly, but it’s in your best interests to understand what your weapons’ practical applications and limitations are, and maybe use those in the story to add realism to the fight scenes.

Maps, Maps, & More Maps

Maps, Maps, & More Maps

World Map for Jennifer Allis-Provost’s Parthalan Series created by Derranged Doctor Designs

Let’s talk about maps and their role is the world building process.

Most stories will benefit from thinking about the locations featured in them and placing them in the larger context of the world in which they exist. You may not need many maps and you may not even have to create them yourself but even a short story about a single location could benefit from a map. It can be a simple floor plan where the action takes but it’s a good idea to plan a little so the story can flow naturally around and through the location.

Of course, some genres scream for maps more than others. Fantasy stories pretty much requires a fair bit of world building and lots of maps. You need maps of towns and the surrounding area and you need area/world maps showing typography, vegetation, resources, political boundaries, wind currents, ocean currents, latitude, roads and, trade routes. You don’t need all this all at once and if you apply Tenet 1, then you’ll only build want you need as you need it.

Space faring stories may need maps of planets and star systems.

Other types of speculative fiction, say a super-hero yarn or a steampunk adventure, may benefit from maps as well. Maps of the period or of specific locations so that you remain consistent from scene to scene.

Obviously depending on the needs of your story, you may be able to find the maps you need as you research for information about your world. This is most likely for stories set in a specific historical period and stories involving real life locations. But others genres require you to create your own maps.

How do you do that? Well, you need a graphics program like Photoshop so you can create them. Another option to investigate is random generators. They can create world or area maps quickly if you don’t care about the shape or typography of the world. If you do, you need to roll up your sleeves and draw something yourself.

I use Photoshop for my map of Thalacia because the roads are in one layer, the vegetation is in other, and so on. I use a trick from wargaming and place a hex grid on the map so and figure out where to place trees, coastlines, cities, and other objects. Hex grids are used to simulate natural boundaries. The grid is in its own layer so I can hide it easily.

To create town maps, I’m using a new program I found called Cityographer. It does some of the work for you and then I export the map and edit it in Photoshop.

For floor plans I use Dungeonographer and draw what I need.

As you can see there’s a lot to do, which why Tenet 1 is so important, only create what you need.

So with a few maps and some general notes on the world, you’re ready to take a deep dive. Actually you’ll need several. We’ll look at one those next time.

Happy world building!

Breaking down World Building

Breaking down World Building

Tenet 1: Build only what you need 

So you want to write a fantasy story? Great. One thing you’ll need is a world to set it in. The term for doing this is world building. It’s a bit of a misnomer because the world part isn’t what you think. It’s a frame of reference thing.

For example, the Lord of the Rings and the Wheel of Time and many other stories require a whole world to tell their tales. But Thieves’ World doesn’t. For that, you need a very detailed city and lots of characters.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, only requires the bits that are different from the modern world. So you need the school he goes to and some idea about magic and potions and the back story of some characters.

My point here is world building varies from story to story and gets me to my first point: build only what you need because building a whole world can take months or years and drive you mad with all the details. So I’ll repeat myself: build only what you need.

How do you do that? Well there’s no one way to do it. You can read articles online and even a book entitled, Planet Construction Set, which will outline aspects to consider. But all that’s not needed to get started. A simpler — and in my mind — an easier way is to think of the world as a character in your story. Is the world modern? Medieval? Futuristic? Steampunk? Ancient Greece? Set in a specific period or location? In each case you’ll need different information to define the world.

What’s the technology level? What races or groups exist? What religions and government? As you answer these questions, you’ll quickly sketch out and define the world and provide yourself with a skeleton for the information that will come later. Of course, to answer these question you may have to do some research on religion, government, technology, and so on.

Don’t be afraid to do it. I will serve you better later.

That begs the question: how do I know when I’ve built enough? Answer: you won’t. Or more precisely, you can’t know, at least unless you start writing. You’ll hit points where you need more than you’ve got. That’s okay. You can stop and work those parts out. I don’t recommend skipping over that point in the story; it will likely lead to extra rewrites and revision. I also don’t recommend that you start writing until you have a general sketch of the world; otherwise, you’ll be working without a net and decisions you matter later will introduce inconsistencies, which will lead to rewrites.

Example

  • Here’s how I’d answer these questions for my fantasy world:
  • Is the world modern? No
  • Medieval? Yes with magic thrown in.
  • Futuristic? No
  • Steampunk? No
  • Ancient Greece? No, but there are influences of ancient Greece in the world like the name of the country, Thalacia and its capital Andropolis.
  • Set in a specific period or location? Specific period, no? Location yes; Thalacia
  • What’s the technology level? Medieval, no black powder weapons. But magic which can simulate modern technology if I let it. I decided not to because it would ruin the flavor I am trying to achieve. Magic as seasoning, not entree. When I write stories focused on my favorite wizard, then magic can be the entree.
  • What races or groups exist? Lots of them: elves, humans, dragons, giants, dwarves, gnomes, lizard men, goblins, and other associated fantasy races.
  • What religions and government? Religions: several, the christian sect, jewish, muslin, and various pagan religions, plus most other races have their own beliefs. There are also older religions that have died out from humans of past centuries.
  • Governments: Most races have some form of government, monarchies mostly. Humans government vary worldwide; in Thalacia, the feudal monarchy prevails. And most other races have a similar form of government with a strong single leader, like a king or thain or tribal chief or matriarch, depending on the race.

Once you know all this, or at least some of it you can think about maps. And that is the topic for another post.