Five Blunders Authors Make in World-Building

This is from a guest blog I wrote for Kendall Grey’s ‘Life is But a Dream” blog in late 2011.

 I’ve been judging a few contests lately and have found several of the same issues popping up.  With my kids back to school and the crazy sports schedules starting, my brain is working in ‘to do’ lists, so I hope it’s okay I approach the blog in list format. Here’s a list of what I think are the five biggest mistakes we writers make in building worlds:

1)    Making the world waaaaaaay too complex right off the bat.  Keep in mind your reader doesn’t live in your head.  (Sure, lots of other people and voices do…at least in mine.)  The reader might not understand how the shifters relate to the vampires who relate to the demons and the witches—not to mention the humans.  Start off with the important stuff and maybe hint at later information, but don’t dump it all in there at the beginning.

2)    Forgetting to look ahead.  This is a similar issue to number one above.  If we give all of the rules in book one, they may hold us back in book 2.  Try to leave yourself some wiggle room—be able to create new rules in the next book.  You’ll get new ideas, and you don’t want to be held back.

3)    Forgetting that even the characters may be new to the world.  I’ve read so many contest entries where the normal human characters fail to react in a believable way.  For instance, if somehow I found myself transported to a new planet in a new galaxy, I wouldn’t just think, “Wow.  Pretty trees.”  I’d think, “What the *!@$  just happened and where am I?”  Our characters have to react just like we would in such a situation.

4)    Forgetting to relate our new world with the world the reader lives in.  Paranormal creatures need humanistic flaws, dreams, hopes, and problems for the reader to cheer for them.  If we’re asking the reader to suspend reality (which we often are, and that’s so much fun), we have to give the reader something to hold on to.  While most of us haven’t been on another planet, we all can relate to what a moon or moons look like.  While many of us don’t understand genetic research, we can visualize what the laboratory looks like where the research is going on.  If your heroes are vampires…do they have family issues?  Sure.  Why not?

5)    Holding ourselves back.  As a reader, I can tell when an author pulled back.  Sure, it’s hard putting those bizarre ideas we have out there.  I mean, some of my stuff is just different.  In my Dark Protector Series, the male vampires in the royal family actually have a brand on their hand that transfers during sex—only with their mate.  I mean, come on!  A brand.  No way would I have written that had I stopped to think about my first grade teacher reading it.  I pretend that every scene I write will only be read by me.  Then when it’s finished, I let my editor worry about if I’ve gone too far.  I haven’t yet…but I’m still hoping.