5 Mistakes to Avoid When Worldbuilding: a guest post by Desiree Villena

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Worldbuilding

There’s nothing about writing a book that’s simple, and worldbuilding is perhaps the most complicated part. The endless number of social issues in our world should be indicative of how complex society is! When dealing with the elephantine task of creating a whole society of your own, it’s easy to make mistakes — and unfortunately, fault lines in your story’s reality will have complicated repercussions that are a pain to deal with when writing and editing.

Of course, the best way to deal with a worldbuilding mistake is not to make it at all. To save you some trouble in your book-writing journey, we’ll take a look at five mistakes commonly made while constructing a fictional realm, so you can avoid them in the future.

Mistake #1: Creating a world that doesn’t serve the plot

Building a whole other dimension — drafting maps and designing fantastical weapons — can be incredibly engaging and exciting. A fantasy writer who’s been dreaming of her own series can easily let her imagination carry her away; she’s possibly been tinkering at her universe for a long time before actually writing a book about it.

While it’s good to fully understand your book’s setting before writing it, it can also harm you if you become too focused on setting over story. You may end writing something just to fit the world you’ve created, or in a more likely scenario, you’ll end up adjusting the rules of the book’s reality to fit with your plot later. Taking either of these actions risks leaving plot holes in your work, which readers will no doubt point out.

The solution to this one is clear: you should outline your plot before getting into worldbuilding. This way, you avoid going back and forth to tweak things to make sure that the whole universe functions smoothly — or as smoothly as your story allows it to be, until trouble emerges and the protagonist gets caught in it.

Mistake #2: Neglecting the “ground rule”

The more fantastical or futuristic the world of your book is, the easier it is to focus on the physical aspects. What do people wear? Where do they live — on man-made trees or floating bubbles? Again, these things are incredibly entertaining to think about, and having them can help fully realize the realm of your story… but they’re far from the first things you should solidify.

An important pillar of any fictional sphere is the primary “ground rule” that governs it. In Harry Potter, it boils down to the distinction between the Muggle and wizarding worlds — the former is not to be aware of the latter. This simple rule forms the basis for the entire wizarding world’s beliefs, priorities, and laws, and also explains Voldemort’s malevolent, Muggle-hating ways.

Having this kind of norm to structure the society of your novel makes it much easier to then develop in a more detailed way. It also gives your creation coherency, clarity, and credibility. Perhaps this will help: imagine that you are a freelance writer who’s working on another author’s book. Wouldn’t you like some guidelines as to what they want and how things should operate? This is where your main ground rule (and subsequently other branching rules) will come in.

Mistake #3: Failing to consider the everyday details

Focusing on overarching regulations and structures doesn’t mean ignoring the small details altogether. What it does mean is finding the right “little things” to work on. A whole world is too big for you to devote sufficient attention to every tiny detail, yet many authors will make the mistake of trying to do exactly this. The result is a world that’s not believable and appears haphazardly assembled, despite the author’s efforts.

So instead of spreading yourself too thin, pick a few distinctive things that will be the hallmarks of your universe. Let’s use Harry Potter again as an example. Some small, slice-of-life details include the following: wizards wear cloaks, their photographs and portraits can move, and communicate via owls. These are recurring elements that create a sense of consistency and normalcy to the world that Harry and the readers will walk into.

J.K. Rowling happened to pick those aspects to characterize her universe, but you can pick other things — such as how inhabitants address each other, or if they sleep hanging upside down like bats. Such details do little to advance the plot, so there’s no need to focus too much on them, but having just a few of these details on hand to sprinkle into your story can really bring your book to life! (They’re also great for book marketing later on, as you develop a fanbase that will appreciate these quirks.)

Mistake #4: Having too much homogeneity

Unless you are writing a story for very young children, it’s better to add some complexity to your world by creating diversity in the community. In fact, even if you are writing for children, some heterogeneity can really be useful for your story!

Focusing on sci-fi and fantasy worlds, however, it’s important to have a range of backgrounds and experiences as demonstrated by the characters. Even in a world like George Orwell’s 1984, where supposedly everyone is equal and lives similar lives, there are tensions and differences between Winston Smith and Julia’s experiences and that of those who seem content with the draconian governance.

Everyone in life has slightly different perspectives and experiences, and so will your characters — which should also create conflicts among them. Remembering this not only enriches your novel, it can help you determine what will hook readers when crafting your book description!

Mistake #5: Not considering the time frame

There’s the cross-sectional way of looking at society, there’s the longitudinal way, and then there’s a combination of both — the approach you should take as a worldbuilder. And you can kill two birds with one stone by developing a history for your world which potentially strengthens its complexity in the present.

Note that when working on the basic history of a society, it’s not going to stay constant — in fact, there will likely be drastic changes as you progress. But telling a tale of wars or natural disasters that changes the way the world works will lend dynamism to your novel, as long as you do it right and provide sufficient time between past and present! Throwing in a big twist (although not too big that it becomes overly dramatic) also means that you can focus on that rather than details many different events and changes in order to create that depth.

Depth, believability, relevance: those are the three main things you have to aim for when crafting a universe. Remember to keep your plot close by, because the story and the setting cannot work without one another.

There’s certainly a lot to ponder — you’re essentially creating a unique logic system — so take your time. If you need help, remember that there are plenty of writing communities out there that can give you guidance on this, so reach out if you need to. Otherwise, feel free to get on with the crafting!

Desiree Villena is a writer at Reedsy, a platform that connects indie authors with the world’s best publishing professionals. She enjoys writing non-fiction, especially the historical kind, and is delighted by the prospects that self-publishing companies provide for aspiring authors nowadays.

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THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS Audiobook!!!

For the past year or so, one of my guilty pleasures has been listening to BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE, Book 1 in the Majat Code, beautifully narrated by Genevieve Swallow. It is one of these rare situations when everything just clicked — Genevieve was able to perfectly capture the characters and the tone of the book. Listening to her narration made me feel as if I was watching my favorite characters come to life, and surprise me over and over again. I must have listened to this recording more than 10 times. Crazy, isn’t it?

Since the publication of this audiobook last February, my dream has been to re-live this enjoyment with book 2 in the series, THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS, a standalone award-winning sequel to the Blades and very possibly my favorite of all the books I have ever written. And now….

…drumroll…

… Genevieve has recently finished narrating THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS!!! And, she has done an absolutely amazing job with it. My dream has come true!

Writing THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS has been a very enjoyable process that channeled directly to the pleasure center in my brain. Genevieve’s narration has made it so much better! Ever since I received my author copy, I am listening to it over and over again, and I just can’t get enough.

Beautifully presented with the cover art by Alejandro Colucci, this audiobook is now a true gem of my collection — and I hope everyone who decides to give it a chance will enjoy it as much as I do! It’s a standalone, so you don’t need to know anything about book 1 to enjoy the story, and it is  of course the book in the series that has won two Prism awards in the year of its release — the Best in Fantasy, and the overall grand prize, the Best of the Best.

Order your very own copy today at one of these links, or at your other favorite audio retailers:

Amazon

Audible

Scribd

 

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My schedule at Philcon 2019

Friday, November 8

8:00pm

Will My Publisher Expect Me To Go On Tour?

Saturday, November 9

10:00am

Linguistics in Science Fiction

11:00am

Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness

1:00pm

The Future of Synthetic Biology and Public Biohacking

7:00pm

What Kind of Editor Do I Need?

Sunday, November 10

10:00am

Readings: Anna Kashina, Alex Shvartsman, Stephanie Burke

11:00am

Autographs: Anna Kashina, Alex Shvartsman

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SHADOWBLADE events this fall

Tomorrow, I will be signing SHADOWBLADE in Books-A-Million at the Coventry Mall. In support of this event, MODERN GLADIATORIAL ARTS, an amazing group of people practicing historical weaponry, will be joining me at the mall for one of their regular lessons. Everyone is welcome, so please stop by to watch them, or join one of their practice fights!

When: Saturday, September 14, 4-6 pm

Where: Coventry Mall, Pottstown, PA

This fall I am planning to attend Baltimore Book Festival (at the Baltimore Inner Harbor) and Philcon. details and schedules coming up!

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My schedule at READERCON 2019

I am excited to attend Readercon, which will take place on July 11-14, 2019 at Quincy Marriott in Quincy, Massachusetts. Here is my full schedule:

Autographs: Anna Kashina, Barbara Krasnoff
Fri 6:00 PM, Autograph Table

Translation Slam!
Anatoly Belilovsky (mod), Anna Kashina, Tamara Vardomskaya
Fri 9:00 PM, Salon B
Led by Anatoly Belilovsky, several translators will take a paragraph in Russian and produce their own translations into English. A canonical version may also be available. The versions will be read and their similarities and differences discussed.

The Future of Gene Editing: Universal Cures, Perfect Species, or a Global Disaster?
Anna Kashina
Sat 10:00 AM, Salon A
Recent advances in biomedical research have enabled us not only to introduce new genes and create genetically modified organisms, but to edit genomes and eliminate inborn causes of such diseases as cancer and heart failure. New technologies make such editing easier and easier, reminiscent of the way computers once revolutionized our ability to edit written texts. Biomedical sciences professor Anna Kashina discusses what is currently possible with gene editing and where these technologies are leading.

The Real Middle Ages, Part 2: Anywhere but Europe
Charles Allison, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Anna Kashina (mod), Chelsea R. Miller, Walt Williams
Sat 11:00 AM, Salon 4
Writers looking for alternatives to cod-medieval European settings don’t need to look far. The years 500 to 1500 C.E. were times of tremendous cultural and technological change around the world. Novelties of that period included Islam, paper money, and fast-ripening rice; the Incan Empire, Great Zimbabwe, and the Tang Dynasty flourished. Which non-European settings of the 6th to 16th centuries have been successfully used as the basis for fantasy lands, and which might writers find particularly inspiring?

Reading: Anna Kashina
Sat 7:30 PM, Sylvanus Thayer

How Much Science Is Enough Science?
Marc Abrahams, David DeGraff, Anna Kashina, Kathy Kitts (mod), Vivian Shaw
Sat 8:00 PM, Salon B
Some topics require more scientific know-how than others. How much do writers need to know for particular topics—and how do they know how much they need to know? What are some techniques for acquiring necessary knowledge without getting a PhD? This panel of scientist-writers offers helpful guidance.

Middle Book Syndrome
Theodora Goss (mod), Anna Kashina, Kate Nepveu, Tracy Townsend, Gregory A. Wilson
Sun 10:00 AM, Salon 4
The middle book in a trilogy is often thought of as the one in which the fascinating setting and gripping conflict that were set up in the first book… are set up some more. Panelists will discuss recent trilogies and the degrees to which they fit this stereotype; how middle book syndrome has evolved over time; and how they’ve learned to avoid, address, or love the middle book’s problems as authors and as readers.

Graybeards Beyond Gandalf
John Clute, Elizabeth Hand (mod), Anna Kashina, Barbara Krasnoff, Robert V. S. Redick
Sun 11:00 AM, Salon A
Relatively few stories have protagonists much older than the target audience, and the traits commonly associated with heroism aren’t often associated with age. Yet in speculative fiction there are all manner of ways to break the link between age and infirmity, or to defy or redefine the concept of aging. Panelists will explore the potential of elderly protagonists and unpack a hero’s journey that doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

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SHADOWBLADE book signing event in Willow Grove

On June 30, 2019, I will be signing SHADOWBLADE at the Barnes and Noble store in Willow Grove, PA, immediately following the Writers Coffeehouse meeting. If you are in the area, please stop by!

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SHADOWBLADE blog tour roundup

I’ve been having a blast with all the activity surrounding SHADOWBLADE book release. For anyone trying to keep track, here is a list of all the blog stops I made on the way, which really form a journey all on their own!

My interview with Clarkesworld Magazine, insightfully conducted by Chris Urie, made me pause and think about my roots and the origin of some of my writing traits. Check it out here: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/kashina_interview/

My interview with NFR reads delved into such provocative questions as, e.g., my reaction to negative reviews. Check it out here: https://www.nfreads.com/interview-with-author-anna-kashina/?cli_action=1559920744.947

My alma mater, the Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, did a spotlight post on worldbuilding, where I got to talk about the process and even post a an opening paragraph from SHADOWBLADE: http://blog.onlinewritingworkshop.com/2019/05/13/spotlight-on-anna-kashina/

And there is more on worldbuilding: in my case, it always comes with good, and I create exclusive recipe cards for every one of my books. I got to share my favorite SHADOWBLADE recipe on Fran Wilde’s Book Bites: https://franwilde.wordpress.com/2019/05/31/book-bites-anna-kashina-and-shadowblade/

Barnes and Noble stores are putting my books on their new release tables — which means, those of you shopping in stores will get to see this beautiful and silky cover as soon as you step inside! Here is my B&N blog post on blade fights: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/6-books-featuring-killer-blade-fights/

In John Scalzi’s Big Idea feature, I discussed some of the more serious issues behind SHADOWBLADE: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2019/05/30/the-big-idea-anna-kashina-2/

SHADOWBLADE is my first novel where I used at least a bit of my science background to delve into the aspects of human physiology that underlies superior abilities of a warrior. Interested? Check out my blog post for Fantasy Faction: http://fantasy-faction.com/2019/blade-skill-iron-sensing-and-hypnosis-behind-the-scenes-look-at-shadowblade-guest-blog-by-anna-kashina

In Mary Robinette Kowal’s My Favorite Bit post, I focused on the undivided fun I had, writing about the Jaihar warriors and blade fights: http://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit-anna-kashina-talks-about-shadowblade/

And yes, blade fights are my favorite, so I also got to talk more about these, and many other things about life and writing on these blogs:

Civilian Reader

Patrice Sarath’s blog

My Life My Book My Escape

A Little Bit Tart, a Little Bit Sweet

Paul Semel’s blog

Amanda Bridgeman’s blog

Amber Royer’s blog

I also got to do my very first podcasts! Our awesome conversation with Sean Grigsby can be found here: http://www.seangrigsby.com/cosmicdragon/episode40

My podcast felt more like a party with the Liar’s Club, where we had a blast chatting about romance with the blades and many other highly provocative topics: http://theliarscluboddcast.projectentertainment.libsynpro.com/the-liars-club-oddcast-118-anna-kashina-award-winning-fantasy-author

Magical, isn’t it? 🙂 🙂 🙂

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SHADOWBLADE release event at Balticon, on Sunday May 26!

… featuring raffles, prizes, awesome food, fun, and gorgeous brand new books from eSpec Books, in addition to SHADOWBLADE!

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SHADOWBLADE bookstore event is tomorrow!!!

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SHADOWBLADE release and my schedule at Balticon 2019

We are getting really close to SHADOWBLADE release date! It’s currently May 21 in the US and May 7 in the UK, yay!

Right after the release, on May 24-26, I will be attending Balticon 2019, where I will do a reading and a book release party, as well as appear on several panels.

My full schedule is below. I look forward to attending!

Friday, May 24

4pm: Keeping Your Antiheroes Likable [5] Watertable BC, 4pm – 4:55pm

Saturday, May 25

1pm: The Future of Synthetic Biology [5] Homeland, 1pm – 1:55pm

7pm: Ending Your Saga [8] Room 8006, 7pm – 7:55pm

Sunday, May 26

10am: Readings: Altabef, Ford, Kashina [6] St. George, 10am – 10:55am

2pm: Worldbuilding for Fantasy and SF Novels [6] Kent, 2pm – 2:55pm

7pm: eSpec Book Launch Party [5] Baltimore Ballroom A, 7pm – 8:55pm

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