Monday, February 19, 2018

8 Keys To Opening Your Story The Right Way

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

So far in my thread of the Grow An Author series, I've talked a lot about getting ready to write. Here is a list of my posts so far, in case you need to catch up:

From Story Spark to Story Blurb
How To Effectively and Efficiently Do Research
Ideas for How To Organize Your Research Notes
The Three Things You Need To Answer About Your Main Character

Even with all this work, I'm still not ready to dive full-on into my first draft. There's more planning to be done. But I've learned the hard way that I'm not a very good planner unless I have written a few chapters. I don't really understand why that is, but it's pretty common among novelists.

How do you know where to start your story? Writers ask this a lot, and I have a not-so-helpful answer that I will follow up with a more details answer.

The not helpful answer: For me, it's a gut thing.

We all have parts of writing that come more naturally to us than others, and for me, my instincts with where to begin my story nearly always serve me well. I know lots of other writers who have to "write their way" to their beginning, who almost always scrap the first few chapters they write, so if that's you, don't despair.

But that it's "a gut thing" isn't terribly helpful, is it? So here are eight elements that I feel are key to creating a compelling story opening.

Start with your main character

It's almost always a good idea to begin with your main character. This is likely why the reader has picked up your book. To read about this character and their story, so it usually works best to begin with them. 

You can probably name books that you know and love that don't do this. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first one that pops to mind for me. So while I think it can work to ignore this bit of advice, I think most stories are served best by beginning with the main character.

Start with your main character doing something interesting and pertinent

You have maybe heard the writing advice to start "in media res" or in the middle of action. I do agree with this, though I do wish whoever first said it would have added to start with action, "that matters."

For example in The Hunger Games, we begin with Katniss sneaking out to go hunting, which is both interesting and something that's important later in the story.

Skip the "here's what you've missed" info-dumpy opening

Just don't do it.

There aren't many things that I'll come right out and say, "Never do this," but this is one. Yes, I know you see bestselling authors do this. I don't know why their editors are okay with it, I really don't. I'm actually reading a book right now from an author who I love, but the first TWO CHAPTERS are all backstory. I kept thinking things like, "If this wasn't this particular author, I would have already closed this book." And, "When does the story actually start?"

I know it's easy to believe that if the reader doesn't know all these things that happened in the main character's past, or in your fantasy storyworld's history, they won't be able to adequately appreciate or understand what's going on. But your job in the first chapter is to show the reader why they should be intrigued by this character, not to tell them every single thing they need to know.

It's like when you meet someone for the first time, and you have a bit of a crush on them. You're intrigued by them. You want to know more. You don't need to know everything about themoften it's better if you don'tand you still feel that this is a person you want to spend more time with. 

That is what you're trying to create for you reader, and I have yet to read an info dump opening that does this.

Start with action that says something about who the main character is, and why we should care about them.

Going back to The Hunger Games, the reason that opening scene works so well is that Katniss isn't just doing something interesting and intriguing. What she's doing also says something about who she is. She's a provider. She's responsible. She takes care of her own. These are traits of hers that make us care about her, and make us want to find out what happens next.

Start in the character's normal world.

It's helpful for readers to see what kind of life this character is used to, but we don't need very much, and it doesn't have to be a completely normal day either. In The Hunger Games, it's the Reaping day. We see just a glimpse of what Katniss's everyday existence is like, and that's enough.

In Cars we see Lightning McQueen tearing it up on the race track and nearly-winning with no help from anyone else. That's his normal world.

In Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, Harry is having a terrible birthday at the Dursleys', like always. 

Sometimes what's helpful for me is to consider how I can portray a normal day, but with a twist. For Katniss, it's an ordinary day, except she knows the reaping is coming. For Lightning McQueen, it's another race, only this time it's a tie. And for Harry Potter, he's used to terrible birthdays, but on this one, Dobby the house elf shows up.

Start with hints of what they want, what they need, and the barrier between

This, of course, doesn't mean stating, "Harry had been neglected all his life, and what he wanted more than anything was to belong somewhere." This means finding a clever way to show the audience what the character lacks. (And it's not always what the character thinks they lack.)

Lightning McQueen wants to win the Piston Cup so he can have the best racing sponsor. What he really needs is friends and people who love him just as he is. The barrier keeping Lightning from this is his own ego. We see all of this in the first few minutes of the movie.

Consider your tone

Another danger with blindly following the "start with action" advice is that writers sometimes will pick an interesting, action-filled, whizbang of an opening ... that doesn't match the tone of the rest of the novel. A cozy mystery doesn't open the same way as a historical romance. Chapter one of a middle grade adventure novel doesn't sound like epic fantasy.

If you're already following the above advice, having a mismatched opening isn't very likely to happen to you, but it's something to be on the lookout for if you're trying to amp up the action in the beginning.

Create questions

More than anywhere else in the novel, in your first pages you want to create questions in the reader's mind. Why did this character wake up scared? Why is she sneaking out? What is she afraid of? What's so important that she's risking getting into trouble? These are a few of the questions that I raised when I wrote the opening of Within These Lines, and they were all answered within a few paragraphs. You're not trying to frustrate your reader by never answering any questions. You're just trying to evoke their curiosity.

Here are the first few hundred words of Within These Lines. After, I'll give a brief summary of how I think this fits the above criteria. (Besides my editor, you guys are the first to read any of it!)

Chapter One: Evalina
Saturday, March 21st, 1942
3 months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor
San Francisco, California

When I jolt awake, the familiar fear smothers my early morning thoughts and thrums through my veins. I gasp for breath, as if there’s a shortage of oxygen, until I convince my rhythm to slow.

No light comes into my room—too early—but I draw back a panel of my gingham curtains and peek outside anyway. Just to reassure myself that it’s all still there—my narrow street, the houses of my neighbors, my entire world.

And there it is, the sound that roused me from my fearful slumber. The faint squeak of bicycle pedals as the paperboy pushes himself up our steep hill. When I look closely at the front door of the house across the street, I spot the newspaper lying across the front step like a welcome mat. 

The planks of my wooden floor creak as I slip out my door, past Mama and Daddy’s quiet bedroom, down the narrow, steep staircase, and out the front door. Even in the dim lighting of the streetlamp, the bold headline of the San Francisco News reaches up and grabs at my heart:


No, no, no my heart pounds as I reach for the newspaper.

How can you know something is coming, spend every waking moment with it gnawing at you, and still feel a jab of shock when you see it begin?

I devour the article that details how over sixty Japanese Americans living in Los Angeles have voluntarily gone to Manzanar—a place in southern California I had never heard of until earlier this month—to prepare to receive new residents.


I jump at Mama’s groggy voice. “Hi. I didn’t mean to wake you. I just couldn’t sleep.”

With her puffy eyes, Mama looks at the newspaper in my hand. Her mouth is set in a grim line. “This obsession is not healthy, Evalina. I know you’re worried, but we have nothing to fear. I don’t know what it will take for you to believe that.”

“Mama, they’re going to make all the Japanese go.” My voice cracks. “Even the ones who were born here. Like the Hamasakis’s children.”


I swallow. I shouldn’t have mentioned them by name. “One of our produce suppliers at Alessandro’s.”

“Oh. Yes, of course.” Mama stifles a yawn, seeming unaware of how far I tipped my cards. “You’re safe, honey. I know sometimes those articles make it sound like Italians are going to be rounded up too, but we’re not.”

“If the government was being fair, we’d be forced to go too. Especially a family like ours—”

“But we’re not. Stop looking for trouble, and come inside before somebody sees you looking indecent.”

I’m wearing my favorite pajamas, which have long pants and long sleeves, but Mama hates that I bought them in the men’s department. I shuffle back inside the house, and Mama soundlessly closes the door.

She scowls at me in the gray light of the entryway. “I’m going back to bed. I’m tired of these conversations, Evalina. I’m tired of waking up to you crying. Or hearing from your friends that you’re distracted and preoccupied by the news. This is not normal behavior for a girl your age.”

“Our country is at war.” I force my voice to be soft. “What am I supposed to act like?”

Mama’s mouth opens. I’m wearing away the thread of patience she woke up with—I can see it in her eyes—but I don’t know how to lie about this. Why, I’m not sure, because I’m certainly lying about plenty of other things.

“Evalina…” Mama takes several thoughtful breaths before saying. “I’m going back to bed. You do the same.”

Start with your main character: Done. Again, there are times when I've seen writers start with not-the-main character and it works fine, but I think those are exceptions.

Start with your main character doing something interesting and pertinent: Evalina is sneaking out of the house to get the morning paper, which is interesting behavior for a teenage girl, and directly relates to the main plot.

Skip the "here's what you've missed" info-dumpy opening: Done. Other than when I spell out when and where we are in the chapter header, which is customary for historical fiction, the reader hits the ground running with minimal information.

Start with action that says something about who they are, and why we should care about them: From this scene, we know that Evalina cares deeply about something that is happening around her, but not really to her. Anytime you can show a main character caring about something that's bigger than them, that's attractive to readers.

Start in their normal world: I considered starting before the bombing, which would really be Evalina's true normal world, but when I learned the timing of when the Japanese Americans were evacuated, I decided after would serve the story better.

Start with hints of what they want, what they need, and the barrier between: This is just the first 600 words so you don't get the full picture, but we see what's pressing on Evalina's heart, and you even get a hint of why this issue matters to her so much when she mentions the Hamasaki family by name to her mother. The barrier that's implied is that these are government decisions, and Evalina is a teenage girl with no power of her own.

Consider your tone: I wanted my opening to show the panic and uncertainty that saturated this time in history. That's why I have Evalina jolting awake from a dream about a bomb, and sneaking out of bed to find out what new, scary things have happened in the world.

Create questions: Some of the questions the scene evokes get answered very quickly. (Why is she sneaking downstairs? Oh, to read the newspaper.) Other questions are raised but not answered, like why is Evalina nervous that she "tipped her hand" by bringing up the Hamasakis? Or what else is she lying about?

Take a look at the openings of your stories. Do you feel like they're doing a good job of setting up the story you want to tell?

Friday, February 16, 2018

Time Out: Letting First Thoughts Settle Into Place

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

As a routine part of my writing process I give myself days at a time to do nothing but think. Well, not nothing. I'm usually scrubbing the bathroom, or preparing a Sunday school lesson, driving my kids around town, or putting together a conference talk. Sometimes I'm actually out in nature, hiking a mountain or splashing in the ocean. Those are the glorious days, but the truth is, so long as I make it a priority to come back to my manuscript sooner rather than later, these thinking days are incredibly valuable and, in truth, necessary.

If you've been following my writing process on Fridays, you'll know that at this point I've committed to a story idea and I've begun the process of discovery writing the opening scenes. I have the beginnings of a protagonist and the problem she's working to solve. A cast of characters is starting to take shape around her and my storyworld is blurry but is slowly coming into focus.

I've noticed that I've started to contradict myself here and there within the manuscript. Some days my hero has two brothers and some days she has three. Some days her father has a beard and some days he's clean shaven. During my first writing session, I set the story in the springtime, but I've since decided that autumn makes way more sense. I have the frame work of a religious system in place and I'm trying to decide if I want to include magic or not.

What I need to do now is stop and give the story time to become more than just an idea. I need to walk away from the business of writing and let the story settle into place in my gut.

Ever cooked a tri-tip? You pull it off the grill and it smells amazing, but if you cut into it right away, the juices inside the meat spill out and you're left with a dry hunk of cow. What's needed is not more time on the grill or even another dose of marinade. What the meat needs is time. If you leave the tri-tip alone for just ten minutes, the juices will redistribute and every slice will be full of juicy yumminess.

That's what I'm trying to do here. I've done a little cooking and now I need to let my story rest. To let it breathe. To let all the juicy ideas I have racing through my head redistribute. I need them to settle into place. 

When a break like this is successful, I come back to the page excited because I have clarity. The influx of first thoughts that pummeled me during my early writing sessions have begun to settle into place.

I know how many brothers my hero needs and her father's appearance has started to solidify in my head. I'm more certain than ever that I should start my story in the autumn. Like magic, those springtime images of budding flowers and new grasses suddenly become mulch underfoot with orange and gold leaves blustering about on a warm fall breeze. 

Time away from the page allows the warring images inside my own self to adjust organically. As I settle in to write again, I'll go back through my first scenes and I'll tailor the words on the page to match the images I now have in my head. I'll likely come across other things that need to be stewed on, but since I'm back from my thinking break and ready to move forward, I'll just highlight those sections and push on. Remember, this is a first draft. I don't need to figure EVERYTHING out now. Just enough to keep me writing.

Do you routinely take timeouts during your writing process? What does that look like for you? Is it challenging when you come back to the page or do you find a renewed sense of energy?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Go Teen Writers Live Episode 8: Resubmitting after rejection, character creation, and Wattpad

Hey, it's Jill. I've been working diligently on too many things lately, which means I haven't made much progress overall in any one area. :-/  I'm recording audio books, building storyworld for Onyx Eyes, working on my classes for the Mount Hermon Teen Track, and trying to write my last Spencer book. All at once. I've always been more of a "one project at a time" girl, so this schedule has not been my favorite, nor does it enable me to be my most productive. But in everything there are seasons, and my life right now is no different. So I'm going to continue to peck away and see what I can accomplish. *fingers crossed*

Today, I'm excited to bring you our eighth installment of Go Teen Writers Live! In this video, we answered the following questions:

1) If you query an editor and they reject your manuscript, but you've made a lot of changes, is it okay to resubmit, or is that considered rude?

We talked about how it really depends on what kind of rejection you received, and that sometimes an agent or editor will invite you to resubmit. The one thing you should never do when offered a reason for rejection is to argue with them. Nothing good can come from that.

2) The next question we answered is about how to create characters "from scratch." 

This is a complicated question. For several entertaining minutes we struggled to explain how we come up with characters, and then we moved onto the third question, which was about Wattpad.

3) We were asked about Wattpad, and whether or not we think it's a good idea.

Stephanie talked about some authors she knows who were discovered by publishers on Wattpad, and how that's absolutely a thing. But she also talked about how that's really rare, and that's not really the best reason to use a site like Wattpad.

Hope you enjoy the video!

Please feel free to ask any follow-up questions in the comments below. And if you have questions you'd like to have answered on Go Teen Writers Live, email Stephanie at Stephanie(at)

Monday, February 12, 2018

The 3 Questions You Need to Answer About Your Main Character Before You Start Your Novel

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for free books on her author website.

I've always wanted there to beand have often attempted to createa step-by-step process for writing a novel. And while there are some things that happen in a clear, orderly fashion, many other pieces feel a bit like the chicken and the egg. 

My character forms my plot, but also my plot forms my character.

So even though I've chosen to talk first about my plot and my research, it's not like I cross those off a list before I get going on my characters. The creation process is all very entwined for me, so when I'm working on my blurb or research, I'm also thinking about and working on my characters.

For me, it isn't until I've written my first draft that I feel like I really know my characters. Before the first draft, it's like when there's a person in your life who you've talked to a time or two, but you've never had a shared experience. Yeah, you know them ... but after you go on that mission trip/play that season of volleyball/survive being lab partners, then you know them.

I've tried character interviews, figuring out their Meyer Briggs personality type, archetypes, but none of that has ever served me real well. If you feel like those tools are helpful to you, then stick with it.

The first thing I do, and that you probably do too whether you think about it or not, is mine the story idea for intrinsic character information.

For Within These Lines, there were a few things about my characters that were obvious from the concept of the story. One being that both my main characters, Evalina and Taichi, were the type of people who could be persuaded to break social customs. Since interracial marriage was illegal in California in 1942, obviously dating someone of a different race wouldn't be very popular either. But they haven't told their parents, so they're not rebelling for the sake of making a splash. To me, that suggested that they loved and valued their parents and their opinions.

So just what little I knew about the story has already informed the characters. Before I begin writing or creating a synopsis in earnest, however, I do have three questions that I answer for all point of view characters. I didn't come up with these on my own, I should say. These are craft questions that are so widely taught, I wouldn't even know who to give credit to.

What does my character want? 

What are they trying to accomplish during the story? If the goal isn't strong enough, your reader is going to think, "Why don't they just not do this?"

If the authors hadn't done their job in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pride and Prejudice, or the movie Tangled, you would think, "Why should Harry Potter look for horcruxes, or Lizzy Bennett wait for true love, or Rapunzel risk leaving her tower?" But you don't because from the beginning of these stories, you know what the main character's goal is, and why.

Because my two main characters, Evalina and Taichi, want a happily ever after with each other, I knew in those early chapters my job was to show the reader how good they are when they're together, and how unfair it is for them to be kept apart.

What lie do they believe, and why do they believe it?

Before the opening of my stories (and most modern stories), my character believes something untrue about his or herself, or the world around them.

The lie is one of the hardest things for me to identify before I write the story, and it sometimes morphs a bit for me as I write the first draft. (Which is frustrating because that inevitably means more work in rewrites.)

When you're trying to identify the lie, you want something that feeds into the overall message of your story ... which means you need to have an idea of what you're trying to say with the whole thing. For Within These Lines, I knew I had a lot of anger over the way the Japanese Americans were treated, a lot of admiration for how submissive and gracious they were through the whole ordeal, and a ton of frustration with how few people advocated for them outside the fences. I didn't really know what my theme would be yet, but I knew those were all topics I wanted to touch on.

Taichi's lie came to me much easier than Evalina's. Taichi's lie is, "If I just do what I'm told, everything will be fine." I knew that lie would feed Taichi's decisions about how to handle cruel treatment from guards and poor living conditions.

Evalina's lie started out as something different, but eventually became, "I'm just a teenage girl." Evalina would lean on her low place in society as an excuse to not speak louder, to not be angrier, to not be more active. She's just one person. What's she supposed to do?

Your characters also need a reason to believe what they believe. Sometimes this is called "an origin scene." For Taichi, I decided he has an older sister who has been very rebellious and gotten into a lot of trouble. From watching her, he learned how to stay out of trouble by obeying. With Evalina, it was a bit murkier to come up with a defining moment of when the lie took hold. I think anyone who has gone through childhood understands that most of the time you feel like a second class citizen who will only really matter once you're an adult.

The best lies for your characters will have truth in them as well. Take Taichi's lie as an example. It's true that if you obey the authorities in your life, things tend to go your way. But what about when the authorities are morally wrong? Or it's true that Evalina is a teenage girl and doesn't have much (or any) clout to her name. But that's not a good enough reason to stay quiet in the face of injustice.

What truth do they need that they'll discover over the course of the story?

Your main character believes they are working toward something specific (and they are) but they also need to be moving steadily toward learning the truth that will defeat their lie. 

Evalina, I knew, would have to learn how to be bold and use her own voice even in the face of oppression from someone who "ranked higher" in society. Taichi would need to learn that there's a time and place to question authority.

Once I've answered these three questionswhich sometimes happens easily and other times takes trying and trying again to land on the best optionit's amazing how much of the plot starts to take shape in my mind. More on that next week!

Do you do very much to get to know your character before starting your first draft? What tools work for you? What have you tried that hasn't worked?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Discovering My Setting

Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes novels. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and an affinity for mentoring teen writers. Since 2013, Shannon has taught mentoring tracks at a local school where she provides junior high and high school students with an introduction to writing and the publishing industry. For more about Shan, check out her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest

Today, as we continue our Grow An Author series, I'm moving from characters, which has been my focus for the past three weeks, to the setting of my story. Like characters, I depend heavily on discovery writing to determine the look and feel of the stage my story will play out on.

If you're playing catch-up and want to read more about how and why I consider myself a discovery writer, check out these links:

Discovery writing, as we've established, is the process of sitting down to write with little or no plan for your manuscript.

Sometimes when a story idea presents itself to me, it will come with a handful of ready-made set pieces. I just finished a manuscript about an ice road trucker and when that idea came to me, it arrived in my head as this Frozen-meets-Mad-Max-Fury-Road epic fantasy. I knew, from the outset, that I'd need a big rig capable of trucking ice roads. Everything else about the setting grew from this one idea.

While I spent a considerable amount of time developing my setting through discovery writing, I knew that everything I created had to support the idea of this massive set piece and its driver. The entire story came about because I wondered, "What would it be like to be a female ice road trucker and what if the ice road itself was magic?"

The book I'm working on now is different. The idea came to me as a character and a problem. The solving of that problem becomes my hero's goal, but I'm still left with a world of possibilities when it comes to place and time. Where and when is this hero's journey going to play out?

One of the things that must be decided early on is whether or not you're going to set your story in a place that exists or has existed at some point. If so, you're going to need to do some research into the location and the era. If you're creating your own setting, you have a little more freedom to discover details along the way.
In my case, because my story idea requires royalty and kingdoms and people groups at war with one another, I decided to start by modeling the world my hero lives in after Europe in the middle ages. 

I've never written a medieval-inspired fantasy, so before I sat down to write, I googled pictures of medieval villages and taverns, castles and cathedrals. I found concept art that appealed to me and I saved the links so I could pull them up again when necessary. I dug out some of my favorite YA fantasies and I purchased a few new ones. I immersed myself in comparable settings for a couple weeks so that when I sat down to discover my own world, I'd have no shortage of words and images in my head. 

It's important that the fantasy world I create is mine and mine alone, so my goal is not to steal other ideas, but to glean inspiration from them. Books, movies, artwork, theater, music--anything that feeds your creative soul is good for this. Take ideas, concepts, questions, and images from outside yourself and thoughtfully change them: update, switch, darken, enlarge, age, embellish, combine, or destroy and rebuild. The goal is to make them your own.

When at last I sit down to write, I don't discovery write my setting separately from my hero and the cast of characters who surround her. As mentioned in previous posts, I select a possible opening scene and I continue forward. Moving from one scene to the next, I discover my characters and my setting simultaneously. 

This is vital to my process because I believe wholeheartedly that readers experience storyworlds through characters. If you can move your cast to a different storyworld and nothing changes, you've missed a crucial element. By discovering these big foundational pieces of my story simultaneously, the world and the characters become inseparable from one another. The writing will not be perfect, but that's not the point. I'm writing to understand my characters and the world they inhabit. I'm writing to understand how they work together.

In these early scenes, here's what I'm hoping to discover about my setting:
What genre am I writing? Just like with character choice, the genre I'm writing will come with certain expectations. An urban fantasy will likely require a human location, a location where paranormal characters exist separately, and a way to move between worlds/realms. A cozy mystery might indicate a small town or village with a quiet exterior and some drama brewing beneath the surface.

Since I'm writing a medieval fantasy, readers will expect horses and carts, they'll expect taverns and castles and soldiers. They might expect magic and dragons and journeys through dark forests. They'll expect kings and a court. And while I am under no obligation to include any of those things, the genre itself is a great place to start when deciding what a setting might look like. 

What are the locations that are most crucial to the story? If 90% of my story happens in a city, I need to devote most of my story building time to developing the city. I don't need to understand or waste time exploring the countryside. One of the tragedies of world building is that we often mistake rabbit trails for writing. We do not need to know everything about every corner of a story world. We need to spend our creative energy on the locations that will be featured heavily in the story.

What does my hero's home say about her? Does she have a dependable place to lay her head down at night? Is food easy to come by? Is she wealthy, well-loved, poor, despised? Does she take pride in her surroundings? Is she connected to them?

Do you see how it is impossible to separate story from character? One informs the other.

What does this world look like year-round? In my ice road trucker fantasy, the world has two seasons and both of them are winter. The differences between one winter and the other are subtle and the freezing cold touches everything. In the medieval fantasy I'm working on, the seasons will be more traditional with winter, summer, spring and fall playing a role in both peace and wartime, in harvest and the general wellness of the people. 

How are technology, religion, and magic viewed in the world you're building? If you're writing contemporary fiction, this may or may not matter, but as I like the weird stuff, this is always something I have to consider as I construct my people groups and the culture they make up. Does science play a role in your story? What about religion? Are the peoples in your world monotheistic or polytheistic? Is magic something you plan to include? What does your magic system look like? It should have rules and while you don't need to flesh all of these things out right away, these early sessions give you an idea of what your storyworld could look like.

In each of the categories listed above, we have the opportunity to make the setting of a book truly ours. By pinning down unique details specific to our storyworlds, we can set our books apart from other comparable titles. 

I'd be lying if I said I ONLY discovery write my storyworld. That's not true at all. But it's where I start. It's where the ideas come from. After a few discovery writing sessions, I go back through these early scenes and I allow myself to pick the world apart and edit a bit. I take the ideas that I dumped onto the page and I stew on them, consider whether or not they should stay or go. I adjust, adjust, adjust until I feel like I have the beginnings of a world for my characters to move around in. When I'm satisfied, I jump back into discovery writing and go again. It's a process, but it allows me to be creative and it works for me.

Today, I've given you five things I look for as I'm discovery writing my early chapters, but there are so many more. 

What do you consider a priority when it comes to setting, location, and story worlds in general?