Worldbuilding: Don’t Walk All Over the Possibilities

currently playing on my iPod: This House Is Not For Sale by Ryan Adams

Travel feeds the worldbuilding in my fantasy writing. Walking through foreign markets, clicking pics in cathedrals completed in varying centuries, studying historically significant homes, strolling among cemeteries, and weaving through shops built on ancient bridges teaches me about what us crazy humans find important. 

Oddly, one of those things is the surface on which we walk.

I’m talking about floors. Yes, my friends, floors.

I love me some decorated, textured, symbol-drenched flooring. (This obsessions ranks just slightly lower than my one for doorknobs.)

Check out these from Vatican City.

This black and white mosaic surface boasts a merhorse that pulled a big grin out of this The Scorpio Races fan. Mythology is a recurring theme. It both explains the unexplainable and entertains.


(Don’t worry if you feel dizzy. I turned my photo for better viewing.)

And this colorful set up shows off braided patterns as well as the phases of the moon. Many would argue the floor, which sits in the very center of Christianity, is a nod to sun and moon worship. I’m not here to make such a claim, but I do find it beautiful and fascinating. To me, it seems the creators fashioned a piece that involved revered symbols from their past and their present into something all could appreciate from an artistic standpoint.


The next one, in which a bird of prey does what it does best, gives a scene that would have been commonplace to its contemporaries. The hunter and the hunted. It is both lovely and disturbing. Like life. Graceful scrolling and curling lines surround the rabbit, hawk, and tree, as well as the four-pointed early cross symbol. Death gives life and all that.


The last floor I’ll share is not from Vatican City, but from Paris, in the Sainte-Chapelle. One of the floors in this 13th century gothic masterpiece highlights nature and animals, both of which served as symbols for virtue, strength, and sometimes, various noble families. And yeah, that’s me on the floor, getting down and dirty with my obsession.

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Humans really seem to enjoy traipsing over symbols that reflect what we hold dear. The appreciation of life and its brevity, the forces of nature, God and gods and goddesses, mythology and legend. We enjoy patterns and use color in ways that please the eye.

When you dive into your writing, don’t skip on past what lies beneath your fantasy world’s feet. It may just tell your readers something fascinating about your characters’ values and worldviews. 

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Don’t Miss Out on the World’s Weird: Göreme’s Fairy Houses

currently playing on my iPod (Yes, I still use it. My poor phone gets tired, people.): Afshin’s Theme by Benjamin Wallfisch

Crazy-cool places dot this fair planet of ours. If you’re up for a trip, don’t settle for the same old haunts. Explore history, geography, the boards on TripAdvisor. New ideas for a spectacular vaca abound.

Here’s a wow one I found this morning at travelastounder.


Göreme’s fairy houses sit in central Turkey in a place where volcanoes had their way with the landscape. No, there aren’t any actual fairies. Save it for your cosplay, folks. BUT the tall, mushroom-looking towers made of tuff—a porous rock formed when a volcano goes bananas—would thrill even the grouchiest of Tinkerbell’s cohorts.

Throughout history, the region’s people crafted these relatively-easy-to-carve places into houses, churches, and amazing underground cities. 

It is just the coolest.

Don’t you agree?

Now, be on your way. Traipse through the vast interwebs searching for your next weird and wonderful holiday spot!

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Refilling Your Creative Tank

now playing on my iPod: Unissasi Laulelet (Chamber Version) by The Dø

I’ve been doing some plotting lately. And character studies. They’re fun. They’re awesome. My favorite plotting comes from Truby’s The Anatomy of a Story. Also, I love my friend CJ Redwine’s workshops for keeping things focused and clear. You can find character stuff that works on Writers Helping Writers.

But today, I’m not going there.

I need a refill of dream, nightmare, beauty, longing, rage, passion, drive, fear, understanding, confusion. If I don’t have a nice, full tank, I can write. But not well. 

So where can we go to get this refueling on?

Here are the three I’m enjoying this weekend.

1. Deviantart. It is a website where artists post amazing things. Mind-blowing things. Things that will keep you up at night. In good ways and bad. There’s one up right now called Oath by wlop…well, I haven’t stopped looking at it since I found it an hour ago.

2. Great Lines. No, I don’t have a specific website for this. It’s just a time when I manually flip through my favorite books, plays, and poems, looking for lines that kick me in the gut or make me laugh out loud or sigh really dramatically. Here are a couple if your Sunday laziness doesn’t allow for flipping or searching.

“‘Aquamarine is a wonderful color, and I won’t be made to feel bad for wearing it,'” Gansey said.” —The Raven Boys by M. Stiefvater

“Come what come may, Time and the hour runs through the roughest day.” —Macbeth by W. Shakespeare

“Even when she did not like Archer, she loved him.” —Fire by K. Cashore

“Tessa heard a light crinkling and realized it was the sound of the silk flowers on her hat being crushed against the side of the carriage as his body pressed hers back.” —Clockwork Prince by C. Clare

“The unflinching blue eyes looked squarely into the Colonel’s, and there was a devil peeping out of them, the devil of recklessness that is born of despair.” —Captain Blood by R. Sabatini

“Maddie flew back following the 70-mile, 2,000-year-old dragon’s back of Hadrian’s Wall, to Carlisle and then south through the Lakeland fells, along Lake Windermere. The soaring mountains rose around her, and the poets’ waters glittered beneath her in the valleys of memory—hosts of golden daffodils, Swallows and Amazons, Peter Rabbit.” —Code Name Verity by E. Wein

3. New music. I’m rocking some pretty trippy tunes at the moment. Pandora/Spotify/manyothersites can give you fresh songs. Resolution by Thievery Corporation just came on here in my kitchen/living room. Nice stuff. It’s perfect for allowing the brain to wander about the less-traveled recesses of memory and idea and connection. I promise. I’ve only had lemonade today. Pinkie swear. But seriously. It’s fun to daydream. No matter your job or goal or position in life, it’s good for the soul.

What are your favorite creativity-boosting activities?





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BIG NEWS (Plus something for you!)

currently playing on my iPod: Agora by Bear Hands

On St. Patty’s Day, I accepted Kathleen Rushall of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency’s offer of representation!!!




I could go on and on about how excited I am about how excited she is and how exciting it all is. Believe you me. I want to. She is already amazing and we have so very much in common and I want to have a sleepover and listen to music and watch movies and braid our hair like we’re Vikings extras,


until I have a beautiful book ready, you need something just for YOU, my fun-loving, history nerdish, travelholic, adventuresome blog buddies.


So here it is: a list and mini-description of some ideas I use when indulging in my passion for travel planning!

1. Skulk about the tripadvisor forums. You can search all sorts of things like city names and specific events and where to sit. People post tips on local places to eat all over the world, naming even the owners and what nights are gnocchi nights and so on and delicious so forth.
2. Mimic some of the Rick Steves tours. Even if you don’t go exactly where he does, you can find the cool hotels and B&Bs if you look around his site. It is invaluable for spotting a great place to stay that doesn’t cost more than it needs to. You can also get activity ideas. I checked out a walking night tour of Rome for my trip last summer and it was amazing. I knew if all those Rick Steves people were doing the walk, it would most likely be safe and interesting.
3. Find some local day tour companies. My favorite from travels abroad so far is Rabbie’s in Edinburgh. With local companies (if their website looks strong), you usually get guides from the area, smaller groups, and fantastic personal stories. I went to the Scottish Highlands with Rabbie’s and my guide bought us treats that she grew up enjoying and shared tales about eating leftover oatmeal out of a special drawer in the kitchen (you can’t make this stuff up). She was hilarious. And she looked like Ellen. Which is completely awesome. Just saying.
4. Check out all the things on youtube too. Of course, you’ll want to watch things like Top Ten Sites in London or whathaveyou, but also search for Walk Through (insert neighborhood here) and go down the rabbit hole from there. It can lead to cool experiences most tourists miss.
5. Facebook. Ask friends of friends of whotheheckareyou about their journeys and what they liked/hated. They might have a niece who stayed in Italy for a year and knows the best place for pizza in Florence (true story).

YAY!!! for me and my agent and YAY!!! for you on travel planning brainstorming stuff! Together, we have so many adventures coming right at us!

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Three Things to Know When You’re Naming All the Fantasy Things

currently playing on my iPod: Trustful Hands by The Dø

So you’re writing Fantasy. Woo hoo! Now to have a blast making up crazy-sounding rackety mack à la Tolkein—


Slow your dragon, darling.

Great Fantasy isn’t merely going willy-nilly into the imagination fray with an IPA in hand and nothing behind you but the idea that you are the quirkiest lil goof on the Interwebs. Tolkein and all the other kings and queens of the fantastical took time when naming the towns in their worlds, the characters, rivers, seas, ALL OF IT. So take a peek at the sparkling beauts below and make sure you’re doing your Fantasy homework before you kick that leviathan into a gallop.

1. Know the roots language(s) for your world. Get familiar with what meant what before it meant what it does now. Here is an example: Dun means hill in Old English. If you name your lovely fortressed city that sits on a desert plain Castledun, you’ve made a boo boo.

2. Be aware of what readers will see in a name. If all but one of your trolls has a name that begins with R, we will wonder why. If there ends up being no why, we will raise an eyebrow at you. And not in the way you want an eyebrow raised at you.

3. Names also paint pictures with just their shape and sound. A name like Bimmie gives us a different visual than say Llorlongtear. Pay attention to that. (Hey, fun game—tell some kids to draw your characters based only on the names you invented. It is enlightening.)

Okay, I’m finished raining on your elven procession. Just remember: keep it fun, but do your best to make it smart.

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Don’t Forget to Live: Worldbuilding is Being

currently playing on my iPod: Blood Sings by Suzanne Vega

I don’t always do writery posts, but today I’m feeling it. So to those who follow for travelish   thoughts, my apologies.

I say I’m feeling it, because I am. I am worldbuilding. Starting a fresh fantasy novel is all about the feels.

To craft a place that sings of WOW THIS FEELS SO REAL, you must do a bit of body-snatching. Imagine you are the character and close your eyes.

What do you hear? Wind whistling past your ears. A crunch in the snow behind you, like a small creature foraging. The branches of a nearby pine scratching together, the ice on the needles clacking like knitting needles.

What do you smell? The wet scent of snow. The herbed wax your father made to protect your lips when you go hunting. Someone’s hearth fire.

What do you feel? Your exposed fingertips burn in the cold. Numbing snow leaking into your roughly patched right boot. The itchy scarf grandmother made that you wear even though you hate it because she is gone now.

You get the idea.

But isn’t just using your senses. To develop a world that feels real, you must arrange a culture that rings true. What are your character’s priorities? Paying the rent or honor in battle above all? Are children valued? How about status?



Every character in your new world must have a believable motivation that works with the rest of the population. Like gears clinking together, the priorities of your characters make the world move, function. And though motivations and priorities can certainly change, be careful with this, writers. Readers want to KNOW your character. They want to be able to guess how he/she will act. It must ring true according to their makeup.

Worldbuilding ties all the facets of writing together. You must have characters that make sense in the place you create. They must FEEL like real people and experience life like real people.

So get on that body-snatching thing, authors. Possess your character and JUST BE for a while. Think like they think. Sense what they sense.

Good luck!

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Don’t Forget to Research When You Craft Fantasy

currently playing on my iPod: Cinema (Skrillex Remix) by Benny Benassi

Fantasy doesn’t only grow out of a writer’s mind. To be rich and believable, it also springs from history, from culture, from the study of mankind.

Presently, I’m a touch obsessed with Netflix’s Marco Polo.


Well, it’s not just the cute Italian and the amazing costumes and the seriously fun kung fu fighting.

The colorful history and cultural aspects hooked me.

The show’s creators combined both myth and historical records to craft a Mongolian and a Chinese culture we westerners never see.

Kublai Khan’s golden silks speak to his dedication to luxury, his feeling that he deserves such splendor. The deference that Jia Shidao, Chinese minister and general asshat, shows to the very, very young Chinese emperor displays the softer side of the enemy. The Mongol court’s overarching passion for the warrior way of life contrasts beautifully with the Chinese court’s eclectic style and attention to demeanor.

The story has every shadow and color a viewer could want because of the research involved in its evolution. It pulls you in with details that feel true and real and poignant. 

Does your fantasy reflect such painstaking and unique detail? Why not? If you have a bland spot, or God forbid, a plot hole, try looking into history and/or cultures for an answer that will surprise and delight your readers. 

And in case you want a peek into this world of Marco Polo, here is an interview with a few of the fantastic actors.


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