For this Friday’s writerly post, I’ve decided to talk about world building. As a fantasy author, I get asked about this a lot, and I want to share a little about my inspirations and what helped me build my story’s world.

A quick note about the photo above…the books pictured were a few that shed inspiration on my own world building for TQR. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer is one of my FAVORITE books ever, and it’s perfect for medieval fantasy writers as well as history buffs. Also, Medieval Swordmanship by John Clements was a huge help to me when I was writing Brienna’s sword lessons. And that map of Maevana and Valenia was hand drawn by me (maps are essential!). One last thing: the pipe on the letter board was Pop’s, and I like to keep it around my office because it reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien, a world building master.

Two Different Types of Setting

Have you heard of Brandon Sanderson? I’m sure you have, if you are a fantasy writer. And if you haven’t, go check him out. He is an amazing fantasy author, and he actually taught a few lectures on creative writing (you can find these lectures on Youtube to watch, which is what I did). I have learned so much from him, and I highly recommend you go visit his website and watch his videos. Here is the link to his website: Brandon Sanderson’s Website

This was one of the things he taught me about world building, and I honestly feel like it is the key to building a memorable, fantastic, original world that is not going to burden your reader. Because the temptation that comes when you’re building a world is you want to address everything. You want to write about fashion, food, weather, land, politics, customs, etc. You want the world to feel believable and whole. But at the same time, you do not want to bog your reader down. You do not want to spend three pages describing a building or the forest or whatever it is.

So how do you compromise here?

Let’s first divide the world you’re creating into two settings. You have physical setting, and you have cultural setting. And let me list some examples that fall under those two categories, so you can envision them both (and again, all of this comes from Brandon Sanderson’s world building lecture):

Physical Setting:

  • Geography
  • Weather
  • Cosmology
  • Geology
  • Sciences

Cultural Setting:

  • Economy
  • Curses
  • Religion
  • Laws
  • Politics/Government
  • Wonders/Landmarks
  • Caste System
  • Customs
  • Philosophy
  • Food
  • Languages
  • Music
  • Fashion
  • Folklore
  • Gender Roles
  • Weapons and technology
  • History
  • Human Rights
  • Prejudices
  • Education
  • Laws of War
  • Courtship
  • Architecture
  • Courtship
  • Jobs
  • Entertainment/Games

So there is a pretty lengthy list under cultural settings. And you could probably think up more examples to add to it, too. It can be a bit overwhelming when you read through it all, when you truly begin to see how many layers come within a world. But your story doesn’t have to explicitly detail all of these things. Instead of incorporating your fantasy with everything, Brandon suggests you pick three things from this list. Pick one topic from physical setting and two topics from the cultural setting and focus on those things. Make them wholly original. Make them your own.

I’ll use TQR for example.

I had a lot of ground to cover in this book, because I had two different realms to develop and shape. And I had to continue to hone and work on the world all throughout edits. Because I wanted Valenia and Maevana to be distinguishable to the reader.

So the geography was important for my physical setting. Brienna moves around quite a bit, and so one of the first things I did was draw a map (more on map making later). But also, places hold significance in this story. Mistwood, the castle green, Allenach’s holding, Magnalia House, Beaumont, just to name a few.

For my cultural setting, I focused heavily on education for Valenia with the passion study. And for Maevana, I focused on the politics and government with the throne belonging to queens. But I will also say for Brienna personally, history was also a big factor, with her dual citizenship and her ancestral memories.

All that being said…I still had different fashions for the two realms. There was different weather. Different customs (Valenians kiss cheeks or curtsy/bow in greeting, Maevans shake hands; Valenians serve dinner in courses, Maevans set everything down on the table at once family style; Valenians prefer wine, Maevans prefer ale; sons inherit in Valenia but the firstborn inherits in Maevana; kings rule in Valenia, queens rule in Maevana, etc). All of these details are important and I did my best to weave them quietly into the narrative with interactions and dialogue between characters. The more that I knew about the two realms, the better I could create them on paper. So it is helpful to have a notebook where you can go down the list of physical and cultural settings and describe them. And you may never go into depth about the architecture of your world, or the economy, or the different foods or the different flowers that grow on the hillsides, but I 100% believe that the reader will still pick up on those vibes and know there is more depth to the world than what you describe on the page. Because you, the author and creator, know it.

 

“I think with world building, it’s important to create a sense of culture even if it is just fantasy, and the best way to do that is to look at a real human culture and see what makes it cohesive.” –Laini Taylor

Names

“Where did you come up with your names?”

I get asked this a lot, and I honestly have a very simple answer. For the most part, I used a word bank. I love websites like Nameberry and Behind the Name, because they also give the meanings behind the names as well as the origins.

There were a few names in TQR that I completely created (Merei is one of them) but for the most part, I went through the name banks and wrote down any name that struck my fancy.

In my opinion, names are vital. And this goes beyond the realm of fantasy. For any story, the names of the characters and the places are really important. There is power in names.

I remember the night I envisioned the first scene for TQR. Brienna and Cartier were sitting in a library (parts of this scene survived and are still in chapter 1). Cartier’s name came to me right away. Like he had whispered it to me. I love the way it rolls off the tongue, how it evokes a sense of mystery.

I had to think a while longer for Brienna’s name. I have always loved the name Brianna, but I wanted to play around with it a little more. I ended up bringing Brianna and Enna together to make Brienna. And it’s not like this name has never been used before. I have seen variations of it, such as Brenna, Brienne, etc. But lo and behold, when I googled “what does the name Brienna mean?” I got a very remarkable definition:

Brienna: Strong. She ascends.

I still kinda get goosebumps when I think about it.

So definitely take your time in collecting names for your world. A perfectly suited name is worth its weight in gold.

 

“World building touches all aspects of your story. It touches plot and character as well. If you don’t know the culture your character comes from, how can you know what he’s really like? You must know your characters on a much deeper level than you would if you just shrugged your way into a cookie cutter fantasy world.” –Patrick Rothfuss

Maps

Ahh, maps. I could stare at them all day long. And I always appreciate it when a fantasy book has a map, especially if the characters are going to be traveling around.

My number 1 piece of advice when it comes to drawing your map is this: draw it on graph paper. And draw it in pencil first, then pen.

This is something I wish that I had done when I drew my map for TQR. Because graph paper will really help you with judging distance between places. If your characters are going to be traveling on horseback from city to city to city, everything needs to be properly distanced. You need to know how long it’s going to take from city A to city B. And based on where those two cities are on your map, you need to know how long it will then take to get from city B to city c.

Here is an evolution of the map of TQR. You can see my very first map on the top left. Maevana and Valenia were originally on the same land mass. And when early beta readers struggled to understand if these two countries were united or different, I realized I needed to put water between them to help solidify in the reader’s mind that these are two different realms. And then the final copy of my map, drawn by Virginia Allyn, which is simply divine.

 

“Nobody believes me when I say my long book is an attempt to create a world in which a form of language agreeable to my personal aesthetic might seem real. But it’s true.” –J. R. R. Tolkien

Magic

Are you planning to have magic in your fantasy world? If you are, you need to also create its rules and boundaries and understand it.

Here are some things to think about:

  • Is magic inherited? Learned?
  • What are the rules for magic? Is there a structure to it? A hierarchy of power?
  • What are the limitations for magic? Spells?
  • Is there a payoff? Does magic cost anything to the caster or the environment?
  • What about darker magic? Lighter magic? Is there a spectrum of magic?
  • Is there spell casting? Wands?
  • What about magical objects?
  • What about curses? How can they be cast? How can they be broken?
  • Witches? Mages? What are magical people called?
  • Is magic taught in a school? By a mentor?
  • Or is magic naturally learned and mastered?

Another thing that you need to decide is this: are you going to explicitly explain the way your magic system works to the reader? Or are you going to make it more ethereal and mysterious? Even if you do keep it more unexplained, I think you as the author need to know exactly how it’s going to function and work in your world.

Going back to Brandon Sanderson, he talks extensively about magic, and again, I would recommend you take a look at his Laws of Magic here: Sanderson’s Laws of Magic

I hope all of this helps inspire you with your world building. I’m planning to do a post next Friday, so stay tuned!

 

“My editor’s main job is to cut down my world building. There’s so much fun stuff in there, you know?” –Pierce Brown 

 

xx

Becca

Blog Post, For Writers, Worldbuilding
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Hello there! So lately I have been very busy with edits for THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE and drafting my third book, but I told myself that as soon as I got a little break, I would create a few posts about writing and publishing to share with my followers. Yesterday I asked y’all what sort of things would you like for me to talk about, and it seemed like the overarching request was plot. So my very first post is going to be all about plot, and even a little bit about characters, because you can’t have a good plot without characters to drive it.

Before I dive in, I do want to say that I am not an expert. I’ve written several books, so I have certainly grown as a writer, but I also know that I still have many miles to conquer in order to continue improving my craft. But I also remember what it was like to be an aspiring author. I remember visiting author websites and googling questions I had, hungry for advice. And so I want to share my own experiences and thoughts, because some of you might find it helpful and enlightening.

So here are my thoughts on plot:

At it’s core, a plot is very simple.

When you hear the word “plot,” chances are you think of a book that has a super intricate plot (like George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series…). Or you think of a plot you really enjoyed (like Holly Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE…I’m still reeling from her twists). So when you sit down to either plan or draft your book, the temptation is to think of the plot first. What is this book going to be about? And that’s a stout question. It’s enough to make you feel so overwhelmed that you never begin to write your book.

Because yes, your book needs a plot. But sometimes I think we focus too much on the mechanics of the plot and not our characters.

I remember my agent, Suzie, described it as this (which I wrote down because it struck me how truly simple a plot is, and how often we get it all tangled):

A main plot line needs 4 things:

  1. A main character
  2. Who wants something
  3. Has an obstacle in their way
  4. Takes action to overcome obstacle (this often creates more problems or causes the character to realize they want something else).

Suzie also said, “The stakes don’t need to be life and death to be important. If you make us want the character to succeed, what they care about is important.”

How beautiful and simple this is. You don’t have to know all of the ins and outs your story is going to take the moment you sit down to outline or draft (more on which one comes first a bit later). What you need to know is your character’s desire and motivations. Then you can begin to form your plot.

Bones and Breath

Your characters are movement. They are breath, tears, blood. They are the heart of your story.

But your characters need structure, or else they will dance and slip away and eat all the cookies and talk for hours without purpose.

Your plot, then, is the bones to hold everything together; it is the frame that enables your characters to thrive. It is a skeleton, a structure readers are familiar with. Most readers know we need an inciting incident at the beginning, a few challenges/obstacles that gradually build and lead up to the top of the summit, where the climax occurs. And then we have the slight downward slope of resolution. If a story doesn’t follow this structure, or let’s say the climax happens too early, or it happens literally on the final page, a reader will notice. They will also most likely be emotionally dissatisfied by it, because reading a book requires investment of time and emotion.

Reading, at least for me, has taught me quite a bit about the pacing and skeleton of a plot.

I remember the first time I read UPROOTED by Naomi Novik. I was absolutely enchanted by it, and I devoured the book, unable to think of anything else. As soon as I turned the last page, I went back and read it again. But this time, I didn’t read as a reader but as a writer who craved to learn a little bit of Novik’s magic. I asked myself, “What did Novik do in this first chapter that had me so ensorcelled? When was I completely invested in this story? How did she structure the first half? How did she build up to the climax? What did I think was going to happen? Did she take me by surprise?”

I would recommend you do the same thing with one of your top favorite books. Read it with a very critical eye, and learn from that author.

Now I want you to think of the heart and the bones of your story. If your characters are meandering from scene to scene, and it feels aimless, then you might need to re-examine your MC’s desire/motivations. Sharpen the desire, and flesh out their motivations. Another tip that has helped me enormously is this: every scene needs to move the story forward. If it’s not, you need to cut that scene. (Just so you know, I cut A LOT from TQR’s earlier drafts).

And if you struggle to find those scenes on your own, have a trusted beta reader help you find them.

Some readers have expressed that they don’t know how to keep a plot going after the first few chapters. I think this would go back to the heart of your story: what does your character desire? Perhaps their desire is not strong enough to sustain a full novel. If that’s so, then you need to rework the desire and motivation.

Desire Drives a Story

I find it helpful to also envision my characters as the muscles, and they move the bones. The bones do not move the muscles. You want your characters to drive the plot, instead of letting the plot dictate your characters.

This was a vital thing I learned when I was revising TQR.

When I was first drafting TQR back in 2015…I really had no idea how to plot and pace. The entire book was an experiment. Above all, I had Brienna’s two desires: to passion and restore a queen to the throne. But I discovered quite a bit as I drafted. Which is how I typically create books, so there is nothing wrong with that.

But since I had very little experience in drafting a full-length fantasy novel, I fell into a very common trap. I had my plot dictating Brienna for a good bit of the tale. Which meant Brienna was very passive for a large chunk of the book (mainly the middle portion). This was something my agent and my editor both helped me realize and reshape. So as I began to revise with their input, I worked to make Brienna drive the plot forward with her actions, thoughts and decisions.

Let me offer an example. In the earliest draft, Jourdain was the mastermind behind the revolution. He plotted everything, and Brienna was a pawn. And I truly believe I wrote it that way because I thought at that time, “No one will believe a young woman can plan a revolution.” And how sad is that thinking! It is a lie that we have been taught and told for centuries. And so as I revised, I told myself, “Who says girls cannot plot revolutions?”

Brienna would not be a pawn. Brienna would plan her own involvement, and she would move all the pieces forward. And what a shift that brought to my plot and my storytelling!

Plotters versus Pantsers

Most likely, you’ll fall into one of two categories of writers. You’re a plotter or a pantser.

Plotter: a writer who likes to extensively outline and plan before drafting the first word. They like to know exactly where they are going and how exactly they will arrive there. These writers typically enjoy revising far more than they do drafting.

Pantser: a writer who literally writes by the seat of their pants. They discover a majority of plot and characters as they go. They sometimes have no idea where the story is taking them. These writers typically enjoy the thrill of the first draft, and find revising far more difficult.

Of course, you might be a mix of the two, but for the most part, you’re probably going to lean one way or the other. I am a pantser. I love drafting and discovering things as I go. When I was writing TQR, I knew two things: I knew where I was starting, and I knew where I wanted to end, but I had no idea how I was going to get from point A to point B. But as I began to write, I found my way.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both inclinations.

A plotter obviously has everything worked out. They have all their foreshadowing worked in, they know how the middle of their book is going to link the beginning to the end. But sometimes, an outline can stifle your creativity. Sometimes, it hinders you from letting your characters make unexpected choices that will take your plot to the next level. I think the key for a plotter is to enjoy the draft. To be open to new, unexpected turns that deviate from the outline.

A pantser obviously has little worked out. But that makes the draft open to anything. Likewise, a pantser has to be good at understanding their characters, or else they’ll be dragged to kingdom come. This is the trouble of pantsing it–sometimes, you take the wrong path, and you have to cut and delete scenes until you find that place where you took the wrong fork in the road. You also have to go back in and plant your foreshadowing seeds later in revisions.

I think once you understand what sort of writer you are, you can better understand how you plot and use that to your advantage. Do you need structure or do you need space? Are you open to letting your characters guide you, or do you need to know everything about them before you begin writing them?

I think that’s all for now. And as I write this, I realize there is still more I could say about plot. Maybe in a future post I can break the structure down, because I know it’s hard to master that skeleton. But for now, I hope this is encouraging and has given you some things to mull over.

I’m planning to write another post next Friday, so if you have any topics you would like for me to talk about, simply let me know in the comments or get in touch with me on Instagram!

And to close, here is a quote from Holly Black that has really stuck with me about characters and plot:

“What gives readers pleasure is character stuff — their pain, their secrets, their choices, their sacrifices — and so the plot that gives us the most of that is going to be the one that works best for the story.”

xx

Becca

Blog Post, For Writers, Plot
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IT’S HERE!!!!

In honor of the summer solstice yesterday, Jen revealed the cover for my second book on her amazing blog, Pop! Goes the Reader. I am also giving away a signed hardback copy of THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE on her post (keep in mind I won’t get these hardbacks until February of next year, so there will be a little bit of a wait…) but here is the link so you an enter: Cover Reveal on Pop! Goes the Reader

I also shared my thoughts on the cover for my sequel on Twitter:

So YES, that is Cartier on the cover with Brienna!! Which means that this sequel is a dual narrative, equally told between Cartier and Brienna.

And I am SO EXCITED to share it with you!

Release date is March 5, 2019. And I know that feels so far away, but I promise it will be here before we both know it.

Here are some important links for THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE:

Add it to your GoodReads Shelf: THE QUEEN’S RESISTANCE

Available for Pre-Order (and if you pre-order, keep your receipts! I have a pre-order campaign coming!):

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

HarperCollins

**Also check with your local independent bookstore!

What do you think of the cover? I hope you love it as much as I do. And get ready. This book is a wild adventure.

xx

Becca

Cover Reveal, News, The Queen's Resistance
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In honor of all the wonderful love and support The Queen’s Rising has received the past few months, I’ve decided to host another giveaway! Like my other giveaways, this one is being run on my instagram. Check out my instagram for all the details (you can find me @beccajross), but here’s what is up for grabs:

-Your choice of one (1) of the following: US hardback copy of TQR, UK paperback copy of TQR, or the audiobook of TQR on CD

-Two candles made by Novelly Yours that tie into the TQR! Scents include Tristan’s Memories (woods + dark valleys + storms) and The Summer Solstice (starlit gardens + jasmine + cordial).

-A Passion cloak! The color depends on what passion you would choose.

But you’ll need to hurry! Giveaway ends tomorrow, Tuesday April 3rd, at noon EST. I’ll announce the winner on my instagram on Wednesday.

Good luck!

Giveaways, The Queen's Rising
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Book 2 has a name! I honestly can’t wait to tell you all more about this story (which will hopefully be soon!). Also, the cover reveal should be happening later this year!

So there’s actually an interesting tale behind this book. I originally sold TQR + 2 companion books to HarperTeen. When it came time for me to draft companion book 2, I did, and yet I disliked it so much that I scrapped it and rewrote the whole thing, only to find that I was unhappy with this manuscript as well. I remember being in a near panic about it, because I needed to hand something over to my editor, and yet I wanted that something to be my best.

A little over a year ago, I was sitting on my back deck throwing the Frisbee to my dog, thinking about my Book 2 woes. I had a journal on my lap, and I decided that I would try something that I hadn’t entertained before, which was writing book 2 as a sequel.

I wrote the first line in my journal, reuniting with Brienna, picking up where TQR left off. And then I wrote another line…and the scene began to unfold so vividly I had to run inside, open a word doc and begin typing it down.

This story literally poured out of me.

There was a spark again, that same spark that I had felt when I drafted TQR all those years ago. The can’t-eat-can’t-sleep spark of a draft. I drafted this book in 24 days, and I cried my eyes out by the last scene (don’t let this alarm you—the tears were caused from the euphoria that comes with finishing a story you are proud of, a story that you love).

All of this to say, I adore this book. It is everything I want my second book to be. And I hope you’ll enjoy it.

xx

Becca

PS—The Queen’s Resistance is on track to be published February 2019

The Queen's Resistance
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I’ve had the pleasure to be featured in some wonderful author interviews and I thought it’d probably be easiest to feature them in one post 🙂

Glitter’s Author Crush Friday

Operation Awesome

Coffee with a Canine

The Page 69 Test

Happy Thursday!

 

Interviews, The Queen's Rising
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Earlier this week, my lovely team at HarperCollin’s Children’s Books in the United Kingdom sent me a box of the U.K. edition of The Queen’s Rising and the books are absolutely stunning! I still cannot get over the beauty of the cover (that gold foil has my heart skipping a beat), and the pages smell sooooo gooooood (yes, I am a religious page sniffer) and honestly, this book just fits so comfortably in my hands. You know how sometimes books are awkward or kind of difficult to hold? Well, this one fits into your hands perfectly (which, let’s be honest, can be a big deal if you love printed books like I do).

I am so excited about these books that I’m giving one away on my Instagram! Come find me @beccajross to enter!

Also, if you want to see the gleam of the gold foil on the cover….

TQR boomerang

 

xx

Becca

 

Giveaways, The Queen's Rising
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