Welcome to an entire month of Top 5 Tips for Authors!
Every day this month my friends and I will bring you a new set of Top 5 Tips to help you along on your author journey. 2017 was a year of change in the Indie author world for sure. So many happenings. So many new things to learn. So many old things that didn’t quite do what you’d hoped. Well, every day is a new day. And every year is a new year. So we hope that this month’s worth of tips will get you the kick start you need to make 2018 your best yet and please feel free to ask questions and leave comments.
Next up on the blog is my friend Blair Babylon. Blair is an award-winning, USA Today-bestselling author who used to publish literary fiction. Because professional reviews of her other fiction usually included the caveat that there was too much deviant sex and too much interesting plot, she decided to abandon all literary pretensions, let her freak flag fly, and write hot, sexy, suspenseful romance.
DON’T FORGET TO ENTER BLAIR’S GIVEAWAY AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST OR ON HER BLOG HERE!
World-building is important in every literary genre. In science fiction and fantasy, world-building is often an early step in the writing process, but every genre should include some world-building work.
“But,” you say, “I’m writing contemporary romance. I don’t have to do any ‘world-building.’”
Au contraire! The world you build is every bit as important as one in which spaceships shoot laser beams that may a Pew! Pew! sound. Your world may be the British legal system, a high-end sex club in the Southwest, or the music industry, but these are all worlds.
- Start with character.
For a single book, starting with character is the best way to build a world. Once you have defined your character, ask yourself, “What is the worst place for this character to live?” This applies for romance as well as science fiction and fantasy. For example, if your character is energetic and proactive, put them in a situation where patience and empathy will be necessary for them to survive. If you’re writing a series, figure out how each of the series characters will fit into this world that you are building.
- How did you know?
You should know what your greatest strengths are as a writer, and then build upon and use those strengths. Getting the details and the world right is one of mine. Every time I publish a book, I get mail from readers that asks, “How did you know?” In November, I published a book where the female main character is a cardiothoracic surgeon. I just got the fan mail, through my Facebook reader page, that said, “I am a cardiothoracic surgeon, and you got every detail exactly right. How did you know?” I’ve published books about being an English barrister, which is a trial lawyer, in London, and gotten the exact same mail from people who worked in the English court system.
The answer to getting the details right is research. Start on the Internet to learn the surface stuff. From there, read books. It is highly unlikely that anything you read on the Internet will probe as deeply as a biography, autobiography, or documentary book. Documentary films are good, too. I wrote a miniseries of four novels about the lead singer of a rock band. (There are actually nine novels in the overall Killer Valentine series. The first one is free!) Julie has an amazing book about rock stars, ROCK, which I highly recommend. (I swear, neither one of us copied each other. It’s just that we both did the research and understood the music industry world, so the books have a lot of parallels.)
I did a tremendous amount of research for these books. One of the most important books that I read was The Dirt by Neil Strauss and the musicians of Motley Crue. This combination biography and autobiography was one of the most important pieces of research that I did. And another book So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star by Jacob Slichter, the drummer for Semisonic (“Closing Time”). I cannot stress enough how important it is to read deeply in primary literature to create your world. That’s where you get the feel for it.
And that’s how you get the details right.
- Learn the vernacular.
Ooo! Nifty word. Vernacular is a vocabulary that is specific to a group of people or a profession. (Also, argot, cant, or slang.) The vernacular for a motorcycle gang is very different than that for a fashion magazine, which is in turn different from a law office, all of which are different than a computer hacker.
When you are reading, keep a list of nifty words that are specific for your characters. If you’re writing a lawyer, don’t use the word tort wrong.
Likewise, write down the jokes that are in-jokes in the industry. These tell you a whole lot about what people in that industry value and complain about.
- Be judicious with details.
Now that you’ve read deeply in your subject, you probably know a whole lot about whatever it is that you were character is doing or where they are.
Don’t go overboard.
Include details that either complicate the plot, add additional stress to your main characters, or reveal the character.
If a detail in the world is important to your character or if they rebel against it, that is an important detail to include.
- Feel the boundaries and the landscape of your world.
All worlds – whether it’s a colony on another planet, a teaching hospital, the British courts system, European deposed royalty, or a rock band – have both boundaries and landscape.
Boundaries are the confine that make each world claustrophobic. These are the places that your character cannot cross or else they will leave this world. You should know where these lines are, and so should your character. Staying within the boundaries should feel both safe and confining. Your character may have to leave their world in order to complete their journey and finish the story.
The landscape of a world is the terrain and customs of the world you have built. This could include how the music industry works, or the career journey from an undergrad to being a surgeon. This is the area that your character must navigate during their journey.