I get asked all the time for writing advice. Generally, I don’t answer. There is no magic bullet, no guaranteed path to success and, frankly, the way I do things is completely contrary to what a lot of my successful author friends tell their readers. I do what works for me, what is true to who I am and that is what I think everyone should do.
But part of the process I enjoy and believe is crucial to the success of a book or series of books is worldbuilding. Regardless of whether you are writing historical fiction, urban fantasy or hard sci-fi, your world needs landmarks. It needs rules you can understand and abide by. One of the biggest complaints my generation has is when television shows change the rules from episode to episode. An example of this is one of my favorite childhood shows, Buffy. In an early episode (two, I think) she and Xander are trying to escape the sewers. Buffy, with some difficulty, bends and rips a plate steel grating that is about an inch thick. A few episodes later she is stopped by a wooden door. Um…no. That sort of discontinuity takes viewers and readers out of their headspace and jerks them back into reality.
Which is why I have a notebook full of Raven’s world. It contains all the people, places and things Raven has or will encounter and it gets added to just about every week. Her world is sprinkled with places like Isle of Night and Club Purgatory, people like the Riscassi family and Pashta and recurring villains like Strohm, Cajsa and Bathory.
It also includes what I refer to as “Raven’s Character sheet.” It is a list of what Raven can do. I have set limits to her strength in human mode, vamp mode and raging. I know how far she can fall, how high she can jump, how intelligent she is, how wise. I know what skills she possesses and what she is in the process of learning. I also have a list of her accomplishments and her goals in life. It is important to not only know what she can do, but why she might do it.
The notebook contains photos, printouts, postcards and a stick of incense I picked up years ago, a scent that, to me, is what the estate smells like to Raven. Whenever I see something I think I can add to her world, I grab it and stick it in the notebook. It is starting to look like the Jones’ grail diary.
I have similar (though smaller) notebooks for Shadowlands, Wayward and Penny Dreadfuls and I am creating one for Havoc, my upcoming series.
If you want to be a successful writer, build your world. Make it a living, breathing thing your fans can live inside and escape from their troubles. You don’t have to describe everything, just the important things. The comfortable, recurring things they can return to in later books like picking up a favorite sweater or blanket. Trust me, it helps.