Category Archives: writing

Making Your Author’s Website Work for You #amwriting

Whether we are indie or traditionally published, we are responsible for getting our author name out there via the available social media. Expenses can mount up and finding affordable ways to get your name out there can be difficult.

blogging memeBut when it comes to having a website, don’t sweat it. WordPress and Blogger (Google’s platform) offer free blogs and theme templates. You can have a nice-looking website, with only a small amount of effort and a little self-education.

I began this site in 2011. I used WordPress’s free plan and had no website skills whatsoever. I also had a book review site, Best in Fantasy using Google’s Blogger platform. I used both platforms’ learning tools and can hold my own now.

Your website is your store, a newsletter, and is also your public presence. We want people to find and read our work. It’s a platform where you can advertise your books and have links to where they are available.

I belong to several professional organizations. One of the comments even traditionally published, well-known authors make most often when explaining why they don’t keep their blogs updated, is this:

They don’t know what to write about.

Several years ago, a well-known author told me that updating her blog is as exciting as doing laundry. This is because it hasn’t occurred to her to write about her passions.

She is an avid music fan and gets to every festival she can. I think her fans would have loved to hear about 2022’s Bonnaroo, a music festival I’ve never had the chance to attend. It sounded amazing when she told me about it, and she could have made a quick post featuring photos and tweet-length comments.

However, my friend regularly posts on Instagram and Twitter about her garden and what she had for dinner. Many authors use twitter to connect with fans, but they don’t think their thoughts are worth more than the 280 characters in a tweet.

Yet those small chunks of personal life could be stretched a bit to make a delightful short read.

Margaret Atwood on writing LIRF07252022A blog post doesn’t have to be long. Think of it as a slightly longer tweet or Facebook post. Just write a paragraph or two about what you are interested in at that moment. You will have 300 – 500 words written in no time.

That is an acceptable length for a blog post. My first posts averaged 400 words and detailed my experience of floundering around as a writer. I began with four followers, and while I’m not burning up the internet, I’m connecting with many more people now than I was then.

Many of us are adept at using Facebook to connect with readers. The work you put into a Facebook post for your author page could easily be turned into a short blog post.

If you fall into that category, even a bi-monthly update on your works in progress and where you will be signing books is a good option. We only need something to keep our fans engaged.


Rembrandt and Saskia as the Prodigal Son.

I have made a personal commitment to post three times a week on this blog. This allows me to rant about the craft of writing and gives me a place to talk about fine art – something I love.

Financial constraints mean I can’t travel the world to view great art in person. Wikimedia Commons allows me to see the works of all the artists from prehistoric times to the present. I love talking about what I have discovered at Wikimedia Commons.

Writing blog posts requires me to be a thinking author as well as a pantser. I can write using the “stream-of-consciousness” method or from an outline of whatever interests me at the time. I do the research, and the post begins to write itself.

This blog never fails to provide me with a sharp dose of reality and has made me a better writer. I proofread my work, run it through Grammarly, have the Read-Aloud function of my word-processing program read it back to me, and then publish it.

Nothing bursts your bubble of self-importance like discovering gross errors and bloopers several days after you published the post.

I do admit, finding new and interesting content can be a challenge. Sometimes, I consider cutting back to publishing only on Mondays and Fridays. I have written posts on nearly every aspect of the craft and am repeating myself.

But then, a complex subject will be raised in a forum, and I hear a new point of view on it. I see things from a different perspective, and I’m fired up again.

I know it’s hard to gain readers when you first start out. But it’s like Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. If you keep at it, you gain readers. If you write it, readers will comeif you do these three things:

  1. Tweet the new post’s link.
  2. Post the link to Instagram.
  3. Post it to your author Facebook

You can set WordPress up to post automatically to Twitter and Facebook, taking the work out of everything.

I advise writing short posts, scheduling them for a particular day and time and not worrying about how many hits, likes, or comments you get. That’s a stress you don’t need.

Instead, write your posts as if every person on the planet will read them. Just post them and forget about them until it’s time to post the next one.

  • Don’t even look at the stats for the first six months.

Quill_pen smallAfter six months, you’ll have a history of stats to look at. Use that information to gauge what topics did best. Make sure the time the blog goes live is a good slot. You want to post it when people are looking for something short to read, like when riding the bus or train to or from work.

Updating your website twice a month to discuss your writing and how life treats you will be interesting to people who read. They are your target audience.

If that’s too much work, approach it like your other social media. Any social media platform post can be converted into a quick blog post.

It is another good way to connect with your readers. And if you go the free route as I did for the first five years, it costs you nothing.


Filed under blogging, writing

Writing through the chaos #amwriting

I have to say, it’s been a bit chaotic here at Casa del Jasperson. Writing goes on amidst the boxes and procrastination. We’re sorting things into “keep” and “toss” piles, and the toss piles are far bigger than the keepers. At some point, we will be done with the big dig, and whether we move or stay put, we’ll be better off for having done it.

MyWritingLife2021Who needs a box of corkscrews? Apparently, we do as they go along with our three boxes of wine glasses. Greg’s medication precludes alcohol consumption, and I am a teetotaler. But we proudly serve Washington wines – Wikipedia. Party on!

Twenty coffee cups from friends, seven travel mugs from organizations we volunteer with, two boxes of home canning supplies, nine flower vases, six forms for making heart-shaped fried eggs (unused for twelve years since I became vegan), and two large muffin tins ….

I miss the days when I could load everything I owned into a Volkswagen Beetle and move house in one day.

Writing continues despite the distraction. Living in my fantasy world for several hours each evening keeps me functioning normally and allows me an escape from the mess.

My NaNoWriMo novel has a complete story arc now. All I need to do is stop binge-watching Death in Paradise and get on with it.

coffee cupsThe house seems to have a rhythm. In the morning, a tide of ancient artifacts rolls into the living room from every closet and corner, making me irritable. The afternoon sees boxes of items ebb out to the car, driven away to be donated to charities. By evening the sea of clutter is down to a moderately tidy level, only for the tide of chaos to rise again the next day.

Writing is my place of normalcy. When I can’t focus on my current work-in-progress, I can always come here to my blog and chat about the craft of writing. This blog is where everything is tidy and neatly put away.

Life is good, and to be honest, packing up isn’t all that terrible. The objects and appliances that found their way to our home and never left are intriguing in their own right.

Four Japanese porcelain dolls. The complete works of William Shakespeare. Five worn-out sets of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one for each of the last five decades.

And look, here are seven cookbooks on Vegan Cuisine—these are keepers. My favorite is Miyoko Schinner’s The Homemade Vegan Pantry. I’ve given each of my vegan friends a copy of that book.

667px-PlayStation_3_Logo_neu.svgAnd over here, we have three PlayStation consoles (1, 2, and 3), an early Wii, a Super Nintendo console, and a cabinet full of the games that go with every platform. I quit playing console games after the PS3, and now I play on the PC with an Xbox controller. It’s simpler and takes up less space.

Thank heavens for my nephew Robbie, who used to manage a Game Stop. He works in the tech world now but still collects old game consoles, gear, and memorabilia. I know my precious darlings have gone to a good home.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013Yes, getting our house ready to put on the market is a daunting task, and it sometimes makes me crazy. But something gets done every day, and we’re inching closer to being able to make that final decision.

So that is the update from Casa del Jasperson. Life is good!


Filed under writing

Short Fiction – the narrative essay #amwriting

We discussed micro fiction in Monday’s post. Today we’re continuing to look at writing short works by looking at the narrative essay/article. Many will wonder just what a narrative essay is.

narrative essayIf you enjoy reading magazines like the New Yorker, Harper’s, or Reader’s Digest, you have read and enjoyed many narrative essays.

A narrative essay/ article is not a newspaper article, which (usually) deals in facts – who, what, why, when, and where.

The primary purpose of an essay is to offer readers thought-provoking content. Many narrative essays take an event and play fast and loose with the facts. Some elements are exaggerated, and others might be skipped over. The same is true of how the people involved are portrayed.

It might detail an actual event but will be colored and shaped by the author’s personal point of view.

A-supposedly-fun-thing-first-edition-coverThe narrative essay conveys our experiences and ideas in a form that is easy to digest, so writing this kind of piece requires authors to have some idea of the craft of writing.

A list of highly regarded narrative essays and links to them can be found at 40 Best Essays of All Time (Including Links & Writing Tips) (

To write a good narrative essay, an author must understand the publishing industry’s grammar and mechanics standards. This is critical because the people who read this kind of work are dedicated readers.

Dedicated readers might vary in their level of formal education, but all are knowledgeable and will recognize when a writer is untrained.

I enjoy reading narrative essays when the author uses the opportunity to explore themes and subthemes.

Theme is vastly different from the subject of a work. Theme is an underlying idea, a thread woven through the story from the beginning to the end, binding the plot together. An example I regularly use is the movie franchise Star Wars.

  • The subject of the first three movies is the battle for control of the galaxy between the Galactic Empireand the Rebel Alliance. That is what the story is about.
  • Two of the themesexplored in those films are the bonds of friendship and the gray area between good and evil—moral ambiguity. Each character arc and every incident explores this struggle in subtle ways.

Original_New_Yorker_coverA narrative essay is a story that begins with an experience you once had. You know how that event began and ended. Just like any other form of short fiction, a narrative essay has a plot arc.

  • Make an outline as you must develop both content and structure.
  • Take some time to consider how you want your account to be perceived by the reader.

The arc of an essay is the same as that of a fictional story. It has

  • an introduction,
  • a plot,
  • characters,
  • a setting,
  • a climax,
  • a conclusion.

It’s not a memoir, so exposition must be limited. For me, the challenge is to not frontload the story. Offer the information at the moment the reader needs it. We must convey the most information with the least number of words.

If you love writing prose and choosing the right words, this might be a good medium for you.

Authors of narrative essays sometimes meet with criticism regarding the subject matter and how they present their opinions. This is because narrative essays often present profound and (sometimes) uncomfortable ideas.

A skillful writer can offer these concepts in a way that the reader feels connected to the story, even if they disagree.

Good essays express far more than mere opinion—they tell a story. The story is what keeps the reader engaged.

If you are writing about an actual event, names should be changed for your protection. This is because narrative essays are filled with information. They expose the places we go and detail the people we meet.

Harpers_Magazine_1905We don’t want to disclose too much information about ourselves or the people we have encountered. An honest narrative essay contains an author’s opinions. Sometimes those sentiments are not glowing accolades. One can lose friends if they aren’t careful.

Those who write narrative essays can make a living because literary magazines have open calls for them. Editors and publishers are seeking well-written essays/articles with fresh ideas about wide-ranging topics.

Some will pay well for first publication rights.

HOWEVER – if you want to be published by a reputable magazine, you must pay strict attention to grammar and editing.

Never submit anything less than your best work. After you have finished the piece, I suggest you set it aside for a week or two. Then come back to it with a fresh eye and check the manuscript for:

  • Spelling—misspelled words, autocorrect errors, and homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently).
  • Repeated words and cut-and-paste errors. These are sneaky and dreadfully difficult to spot. Spell-checker won’t always find them.
  • Missing punctuation and closed quotes. These things happen to the best of us.
  • Dropped and missing words.

As I mentioned above, don’t be afraid to use your words. Readers of narrative essays have a wide vocabulary. But there is one caveat to that:

  • Never use jargon or technical terms that only people in certain professions would know unless it is a piece in a publication geared for that segment of readers.

Above all, be intentional and active with your prose, and be bold. I enjoy reading works by authors who are adventurous in their prose.


And on that note, we must be realistic. Breaking into any sort of traditional publishing is difficult. You will have trouble selling your work at first. You haven’t gained a reputation yet, and no one knows what to expect from you.

Also, you may have gauged your audience wrong, and your work might not appeal to the first editors you send it to.

Don’t be discouraged by rejection. Rejection happens far more frequently than acceptance, so don’t let fear of rejection keep you from writing pieces you’re emotionally invested in.

I have said this many times, but it is true:

How you handle critiques and rejections tells editors what kind of person you are to work with. Rejection allows you to cross the invisible line between amateur and professional.

Always take the high ground. If an editor has sent you a detailed rejection, don’t be angry or upset at their remarks. No editor sends a detailed rejection unless they see promise in the author’s work.

  • Let it rest for a day or two, then respond with a simple “thank you for your time.”

367px-Saturday_evening_post_1903_11_28_aTake some time to review what you submitted, keeping those comments in mind. Then form a plan to address those issues with a rewrite.

If you received a form letter rejection, don’t reply. But do look at your work critically and try to see what can be changed to improve it.

When you receive that email of acceptance, celebrate.

There is no better feeling than when someone, whose publication you respect, liked your work enough to publish it.


Filed under writing

#PiDay: Elegy for Hawking

Stephen Hawking, Star Child,

Entered the world in the Year of the Horse

While bombs fell over London.


Always went his own way

Even when his way was difficult.


Freed his mind to travel the cosmos.

Sat taller in his chair than giants stand.

Quantum thinker,

Body shrunken to a singularity,

Mind as expansive as the universe.


Stephen Hawking

Left us in the Year of the Dog

While we baked Pi for Einstein

And marveled at what we had lost.


Stephen Hawking,

Born 8 Jan 1942; died 14 Mar 2018 at age 76.

Author, Motivational Speaker, English Theoretical Physicist.

Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a position once held by such notables as Charles Babbage and  Sir Isaac Newton. Afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS), Hawking was confined to a wheelchair and was unable to speak without the aid of a computer voice synthesizer. However, despite his challenges, he made remarkable contributions to the field of cosmology, which is the study of the universe. His principal areas of research were theoretical cosmology and quantum gravity.

Hawking also co-authored five children’s books with his daughter, Lucy.

Hawking’s book list can be found at Amazon: Stephen Hawking’s Author Page 

Popular books

  • A Brief History of Time (1988)
  • Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993)
  • The Universe in a Nutshell (2001)
  • On the Shoulders of Giants (2002)
  • God Created the Integers: The Mathematical Breakthroughs That Changed History (2005)
  • The Dreams That Stuff Is Made of: The Most Astounding Papers of Quantum Physics and How They Shook the Scientific World (2011)
  • My Brief History (2013)


  • The Nature of Space and Time (with Roger Penrose) (1996)
  • The Large, the Small and the Human Mind (with Roger Penrose, Abner Shimony and Nancy Cartwright) (1997)
  • The Future of Spacetime (with Kip Thorne, Igor Novikov, Timothy Ferris and introduction by Alan Lightman, Richard H. Price) (2002)
  • A Briefer History of Time (with Leonard Mlodinow) (2005)
  • The Grand Design (with Leonard Mlodinow) (2010)


  • Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy (Kip Thorne, and introduction by Frederick Seitz) (1994)

Children’s fiction

Co-written with his daughter Lucy

  • George’s Secret Key to the Universe (2007)
  • George’s Cosmic Treasure Hunt (2009)
  • George and the Big Bang (2011)
  • George and the Unbreakable Code (2014)
  • George and the Blue Moon (2016)

Stephen Hawking, StarChild, Image By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia contributors, “Stephen Hawking,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 15, 2018).

Elegy for Hawking, by Connie J. Jasperson © 2018 All Rights Reserved


Filed under #FlashFictionFriday, Poetry, writing

Micro Fiction: Goals and Rewards #amwriting

The habit of creative writing usually begins small. It’s an idea, something we wish someone would write. At first, it’s a hobby we must fit around our work schedule and family obligations. Somehow, that hobby grows and grows. For some of us, it becomes a second job that pays little and demands a great deal of attention.

WritingCraft_short-story-drabbleWhen a new writer decides to begin their career by embarking on writing a novel, the magnitude of the undertaking soon becomes apparent.

At first, they are fired up about the project. For several pages, the words flow. Unfortunately, the fire of enthusiasm burns low as creativity fails.

They have the idea. They have the characters. But they don’t have the skills to write something as long and involved as a novel.

Many people see that as a sign that they are untalented. They put it away and never write again.

But the truth is, the project was too ambitious for their skill level. They haven’t learned the tools of the trade and received no reward for their efforts.

I suggest people begin by writing micro fiction. Drabbles are a form of micro fiction, an entire story in exactly 100 words.

Some forms of poetry, such as haiku, are not micro fiction, as they don’t tell a fully developed story.

My Coffee Cup © cjjasp 2013 iconWriting a drabble takes less time than writing a 3,000-word story or a 70,000-word novel, but all writing is a time commitment. When writing a drabble, you can expect to spend an hour or more getting it to fit within the 100-word constraint.

First, we need a prompt, a jumping-off point. We have 100 words to write a scene that tells the entire story of a moment in a character’s life.

Some contests give whole sentences for prompts. Others offer one word, and still others have no prompt at all.

prompt is a word or visual image that kick-starts the story in your head. If you need an idea, go to Reedsy’s Weekly Writing Prompts.

But prompts are only the beginning. To write a story of any length, we need these essential components:

  • A setting
  • One or more characters
  • A conflict
  • A resolution.

writer_at_work_nanowrimo_signI use a loose outline to break the arc of every story I write into acts, each with a specific word count. (I’ve included a graphic at the bottom of this post.)

A drabble may have only 100 words, but my process works the same as for a novel.

For a novel, I divide my outline this way: 10,000 or so words to open the story, set the scene, introduce the characters and get to the inciting incident. 50,000 or so words for the heart of the story. 10,000 or so words for the conclusion.

A micro fiction is outlined the same way:

  • I have about 25 words to open the story and set the scene.
  • I have about 50 – 60 for the heart of the story.
  • I give myself 10 – 25 words to conclude it.
  • The story must be told in precisely 100 words. (Not more, and not less—exactly 100 words.)

Writing micro fiction teaches you to tell a story without exposition.

However, you should save the clumps of exposition and backstory in a separate file because they do come in usefully as part of your world-building and character development exercises.

  • Every word you write and discard might be useful in a later story.
  • Label the file with a title that says what it is.
  • Save it in a master file that contains ideas for longer stories.

Drabble_LIRF_1_jan_2018_cjjapI mentioned rewards in the title of this post. The completed story is a small gift you give yourself, and the surge of endorphins you experience in that moment of “Yes! I can write after all!” are the reward.

When you write to a strict word count limit, every word is precious and must be used to the greatest effect. By shaving away the unneeded info in the short story, the author has more room to expand on the story’s theme and how it supports the plot.

I suggest you save your drabbles and short scenes in a clearly labeled file for later use. Each one has the potential to be a springboard for writing a longer work. Or you might want to submit it to a drabble contest.

Contests for micro fiction abound on the internet. Whether you choose to submit a drabble to a contest or hang on to it doesn’t matter. Either way, the act of writing micro fiction hones your skills, and you will have captured the heart of your brilliant idea.

Micro fictions are the distilled essence of novels. They contain everything the reader needs to know about that one moment in time. The reader wants to know what happens next.

You will have succeeded in writing your story, and that success is a reward in itself.



Filed under writing

#FineArtFriday: View to a Clearing by Albert Bierstadt (revisited)

Title: View to a Clearing by Albert Bierstadt

Medium: oil on paper mounted on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 14 in (35.5 cm); Width: 19 in (48.2 cm)

Inscriptions: Signature bottom left: ABierstadt

What I love about this painting:

I first posted this painting a year ago. Sometimes life gets ahead of us, and we just need moment of serenity, a chance to relax and let go of stress. Life is a little hectic right now, with sorting through the possessions we’ve acquired over the years of living in this house. A box filled with corkscrews … how many does one family need?  A shopping bag packed with coaxial cables and no hint of what they were once connected to. What were we saving these for? And then there are the things people give you that you wouldn’t have bought for yourself, but which you now own and feel guilty for not appreciating.

We are moving those things on, donating them to Value Village, a store where someone else will want them and love them as they deserve. Today’s picture is a moment in time, a day long ago, but which is exactly what I needed on this dark and rainy March day.

I love the peace of this scene, one of Bierstadt’s quieter paintings.  The muted colors, the rising mist, the filtered light, and the cattle grazing show us a hazy afternoon. It was perfect for a picnic, for mind-wandering, and a good day for painting.

Bierstadt is one of my favorite artists because he was often over the top, a little fantastic, and usually epic. He saw drama in nature and painted it, and like every good storyteller, his imagination filled in the blanks, employing powerful imagery to show his stories.

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Despite his popular success, Bierstadt was criticized by some contemporaries for the romanticism evident in his choices of subject and his use of light was felt to be excessive. Some critics objected to Bierstadt’s paintings of Native Americans on the grounds that Indians “marred” the “impression of solitary grandeur.”

Interest in Bierstadt’s work was renewed in the 1960s with the exhibition of his small oil studies.  Modern opinions of Bierstadt have been divided. Some critics have regarded his work as gaudy, oversized, extravagant champions of Manifest Destiny. Others have noted that his landscapes helped create support for the conservation movement and the establishment of Yellowstone National Park. Subsequent reassessment of his work has placed it in a favorable context, as stated in 1987:

The temptation (to criticize him) should be steadfastly resisted. Bierstadt’s theatrical art, fervent sociability, international outlook, and unquenchable personal energy reflected the epic expansion in every facet of western civilization during the second half of the nineteenth century.

Bierstadt was a prolific artist, having completed over 500 paintings during his lifetime.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Albert Bierstadt – View to a Clearing.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed March 5, 2021).

Wikipedia contributors, “Albert Bierstadt,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 5, 2021).


Filed under writing

Worldbuilding part 3 – Visualizing flora and fauna #amwriting

Every now and then, I come across a book where the protagonist finds themselves dealing with the dangerous creatures inhabiting that place. I especially loved the way man and tiger developed a wary cohabitation in Life of Pi.

WritingCraftWorldbuildingStrange beasts are a common trope in speculative fiction.

We all approach this aspect of our work differently. Lindsay Schopfer‘s Beast Hunter series is one series of books where this is done well. When planning this post series, I asked Lindsay how he approached designing his beasts.

Connie: “Is Kelton’s world a colonized planet? If not, what natural mechanism spawns the creatures in your Beast Hunter world?”

Lindsay: Of all the questions I get asked by fans, yours is probably the most common. Folks want to know where the beasts come from in the Adventures of Keltin Moore. The truth is, I’ve intentionally not answered that question for a long time. I consider it the single biggest conceit of Keltin’s stories, which is why I work so hard to make other elements in the story feel as authentic as possible.

the beast hunterSo, why do I feel the need to be so vague on a subject that fans are obviously interested in? The original idea for Keltin Moore’s world came from a RPG video game, which is one of the main reasons why the series shares many conventions with role-playing games, including the presence of a variety of dangerous creatures in an otherwise ‘normal’ world. While some games may give token explanations for their wandering monsters, the majority of enemy units in these games are just accepted as a part of the RPG world, no more unusual than ability cool-downs or health regenerating potions.

Of course, there’s a second, more deeper level to this question. Whether or not I choose to tell the fans where my beasts come from, do I, as the author, know what their origins are? Honestly, I have an idea, but it isn’t set in stone. This felt like a dirty secret of mine until very recently as I was rereading my collection of Hellboy library editions by Mike Mignola.

Within the collection, there are several interviews and insights provided by the author, and I was shocked to learn how little Mignola actually knew about his own world. His methodology for building the mythos of Hellboy seems to have revolved around whatever interested him at the time that he was creating each individual element.

If some deeper meaning was necessary for fans, then it would be their responsibility to puzzle out these conclusions on their own.  While this kind of shoot-from-the-hip world building may be abhorrent to highly organized speculative fiction writers, it was very validating to an impulsive creative like me.

So, will I ever give a definitive answer of where the beasts in Keltin’s world come from? I don’t know. While it could be rewarding for both me and my fans, I’m also mindful of the fact that leaving some questions unanswered gives my readers more opportunities to share in the creative process with me.

After all, as soon as my books are published, they are no longer mine alone. They are also my readers’, and I owe it to them to give them the freedom to imagine their own explanations for questions left unanswered. If I ignore that, I run the risk of repeating the mistakes of other creatives that decided that they needed to answer all the questions on their own, resulting in a dissatisfying, authorial dictatorship. Metachlorians, anyone?

As he says, Lindsay doesn’t over-engineer anything, and that is his style. In his books, the plots revolve around the discovery of predatory creatures in a populated area and how the protagonists devise ways to hunt and kill them. Schopfer’s creatures feel as if they’re formed out of nightmares.

You can find his books on Amazon at this link: Lindsay Schopfer: books, biography, latest update. I highly recommend his work.

Author-thoughtsI am more of a planner. Like Lindsay, some of my fantasy work is RPG game-based. My mind works in a linear, logical manner. In real life, if something anomalous to the native plants and animals exists, it arrived there via external means.

But I am curious monkey – I want to know how it got there. So, in Mountains of the Moon, (RPG game-based fantasy), the war of the gods resulted in a few creatures born from other worlds being cut off from returning to their home world.

These creatures are rare but have elemental magic to defend themselves and are often predatory. In the case of water-sprites, they are annoying but cute. As large predators do in real life, each beast has a preferred place to nest and a favored range where they will hunt. As in real life, this knowledge affects how people travel.

We don’t walk into a place where lions are known to hunt.

My beasts aren’t inherently evil but will hunt and kill humans for food and must be removed from inhabited areas. A culture of mercenaries exists to protect travelers and traders.

In my books, the origins of the rare beasts are not really discussed, but I know how they got there. I like knowing that, so I don’t contradict myself.

I don’t only write fantasy. Many of my short stories are contemporary fiction set here in the Pacific Northwest. I use the plants and animals native to the Puget Sound area, and that familiarity makes dressing each scene easy.

When I am writing fantasy, I take what I know and reshape it to fit my fantasy world. By using what I know, I can visualize as I am writing, and it emerges as an organic part of the background. I don’t have to explain it. It just is.

Our subconscious minds recognize the trees in our neighborhoods and the animals that call our areas home. We know how our part of the world looks and smells with each change of the seasons, just the same as we know that racoons or the neighbor’s dog will get into the trash can if you don’t bungee cord the lid down.

magicSuburban coyotes, racoons, possums, deer – they all make their living in our backyards. In real life, our local fauna is there, part of the environment. Some are predators, so we keep our cats inside and work around the wildlife as a matter of course.

When your characters walk out their front door, what do they see? I only notice our yard when the grass is too long or a favorite plant is in bloom. But I feel the chill a cold March wind brings from the west. I see the way the heat rises from the pavement in August. The local bird species might come and go with the seasons, but they are noisy, calling to each other off and on all day.

You may be a pantser like Lindsay, or you might be a planner like me. There is no one perfect way to do this.

No matter how you approach creating the plants and animals of your world, write them as if they’re just part of the scenery. The environment must be the background, set dressing that frames the narrative without taking over.


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World-building part 2 – Building Worlds from the Ground Up #amwriting

Geography rules our lives. In my area, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, dominates the landscape. Numerous rivers, two decently large mountain ranges, a bunch of volcanoes, and innumerable lakes and ponds impede travel in this part of the world. We are forced to build roads that follow these obstacles, go around them, or climb the lowest passes.

WritingCraftWorldbuildingHere, the shoreline of Puget Sound determines the path of the interstate highway. The major cities and towns are located where there are good deepwater ports.

The roads wind around these obstacles and add to the distance we must travel, increasing the time it takes to go from one place to another. In this part of the world, we cross bridges every day.

Building even rudimentary log bridges requires engineering, but humans have been making them since before we discovered fire. If you want your log to stay put, you must drop it where

  • It won’t roll away.
  • It won’t be washed away.
  • It will bear your weight.
  • It will reach the other side with enough clearance that you can safely travel across it without its falling into the chasm or water.

compass roseIf you are designing a fantasy world, you might want to make a pencil-drawn map. Place north at the top, east to the right, south to the bottom, and west to the left. Those are called cardinal points. Placing the north at the top and the directions east, south, and west following at 90-degree intervals in the clockwise direction is standard in modern maps.

Even if your story is set in a town, a map will help you avoid contradictions. Knowing which direction they are going at the outset is critical if your characters travel from one spot to another. The lines and scribbles you add to your map are the information you can use to check for consistency in your narrative.

I use a pencil so I can easily make changes to my map as the story evolves during revisions. My first maps for any given novel aren’t fancy. But I do suggest you lay your map out like a standard real-world map.

Forests and meadows like water. The climate of an area will be affected by the placement of mountains. Mountain ranges running north and south create what is known as a rain shadow.

This is demonstrated by the radical difference in climate and fauna within my state of Washington. Wikipedia says:

The high mountains of the Cascade Range run north-south, bisecting the state. In addition to Western Washington and Eastern Washington, residents call the two parts of the state the “Westside” and the “Eastside,” “Wet side” and “Dry side,” or “Timberland” and “Wheatland,” the latter pair more commonly in the names of region-specific businesses and institutions. These terms reflect the geography, climate, and industry of the land on both sides of the Cascades. [1]

A river may emerge from a mountain spring or a glacier, but it will flow downhill to a valley where it will either continue on to the ocean or will pool and form lakes and ponds. Farms are usually situated on flood plains or near sources of water.

512px-Well-cisternAccess to water is crucial to life and prosperity. Humans have long understood the value of clean water for drinking, and you can’t count on getting that from streams or pools. Wells and the technology to make them have been around for a very long time. Cisterns have too, collecting rainwater for drinking and irrigation.

The oldest reliably dated well is from a neolithic site on the island of Cyprus. It has been dated to around 8400 BC and consists of a round shaft driven through limestone. The well tapped into an aquifer at a depth of 8 meters or 26 feet.

On your fantasy map, rivers, mountains, lakes, and ponds will impede travel, forcing a road to go around them.

Those detours will add to the distance and increase the time it takes to travel using whatever the common mode of transportation is for your chosen level of technology.

Having a realistic grip on the length of time it takes to go places is critical to keeping the narrative believable. I keep a calendar of events for each novel, which has saved me several times.

Maybe you aren’t artistic, but you want a nice map for your book. The little scribbled map you make to keep your narrative logical will enable a map artist to provide you with a beautiful and accurate product. An artist can give you a map containing the information readers need to enjoy your book.

Are changing seasons a part of your story?

In a first draft, it’s challenging to fit the visual world into a narrative without dumping it on the page because you are in the process of inventing it. Don’t worry about fine details when you are laying down the story. Go ahead and write “It was autumn” when you have an action scene that must be shown.

A blunt statement like that is a code embedded there for you to expand on in the second draft. It is there to enable you to get the story out of your head and move on.

However, in the revision process, I take those three words, it was autumn, and change them up, using them to lead into the action.

Ivan drew his cloak around himself, listening to the soft rattling of branches moving with the breeze. The occasional calls of night birds went on around him, as if he weren’t full of doubt and indistinct fears, as if he didn’t exist to them. Leaves fell, brown and harvest-dry, drifting, spiraling down to the forest floor.

When it comes to geography, the “three S’s” of worldbuilding are critical: sights, sounds, and smells. Those sensory elements create what we know of the world. What does your character see, hear, and smell? Taste rarely comes into it, except when showing an odor.

Moira slipped the egg into the bag. It was the smallest but was far heavier than she’d thought. It took all her strength to carry it back to the entrance. She moved from boulder to boulder until she disappeared into the shrubbery. At last, hidden in the thick undergrowth, she breathed deeply. The metallic aftertaste of terror and bitter air lingered in her imagination, overriding the musty scents of earth and leaves and the rank odor of dragon scat.

Now she had to wait until the beast returned and went back inside its lair. Moira wrapped herself and the egg inside her cloak, blending into the underbrush. “Don’t worry, little one. I’ll keep you safe and warm.” She felt justified in her theft; the little dragon would never have survived the hatching frenzy. The others would have devoured it.

In my part of the world, the native forest trees are mostly Douglas firs, western red cedars, hemlocks, big-leaf maples, alders, cottonwood, and ash. Because I am familiar with them, these are the trees I visualize when I set a story in a forest.

My husband and I once drove from Olympia Washington to Grand Marais, Minnesota. After leaving the rolling prairies of North Dakota, we went through many miles of birch forests—something I had never seen. I was surprised at how short the vast woodlands we passed through were as compared to the dizzying heights of the forests near my home.

map quest to Grand Marais MinnesotaThose birch trees were nowhere near as tall as the giant cedars and Douglas firs I was familiar with. But once you were away from the road, the birch forests became dark jungles, tangled and mysterious.

Cities have complex geography and an environment that is theirs alone. It is created by the city’s original terrain and the materials its founders used to develop the architecture. Tall buildings loom, creating canyons through which we must pass on our way to wherever.

The odors and sounds of modern 21st-century life are essential components of worldbuilding in a contemporary novel. Cell phones, the bells and alerts of appliances, traffic sounds—we live in a noisy world. The way the streets sound to pedestrians is a crucial element of modern city life.

But villages have always had sounds and smells that are unique to human habitations. We have always created communities where resources are plentiful, but over time, climate changes. When it does, we adapt.

History and geology tell us that what was once a good place may become a desert over time. Your narrative will mention all the terrain your characters must deal with, and a little map scribbled on notepaper will help you keep things on track.

Next up: Visualizing the flora and fauna of the world. No matter where your story is set or the era it is set in, there will be life of some sort–even on a moon where you are that life.

Previous in this series: Worldbuilding part 1 – Checklist for Creating Societies

Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikipedia contributors, “Washington (state),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed March 5, 2023).

Image: Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Well-cistern.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, (accessed March 5, 2023).


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Worldbuilding part 1 – checklist for creating societies #amwriting

Worlds are comprised of plants, animals, and geology. But if intelligent life forms live in that world, societies will also exist.

WritingCraftWorldbuildingWe humans are tribal. We prefer an overarching power structure leading us because someone has to be the leader. We call that power structure a government.

As a society, the habits we develop, the gods we worship, the things we create and find beautiful, and the foods we eat are evidence of our culture.

If your society is set in modern suburbia, that culture and those values will affect your characters’ view of their world. You will still have to build that world on paper. But the information and maps are all readily available, perhaps in your own backyard.

But what if you are writing a sci-fi or fantasy novel? You must create the background material to show your world logically and without contradictions.

  • Authors must know how society works in their created cities and towns.
  • They must know the technology whether it is set in a medieval world or on a space station.

Merchants, scientists, priests, soldiers, teachers, healers, thieves – no matter the setting, each occupation has specific technology. They may also have a place in the social hierarchy, people they can and cannot associate with.

Society is always composed of many layers and classes. Below is a list of what I think of as “porch questions.”

This is the stage where I sit on the back porch and consider the world my characters will inhabit. Going somewhere quiet and pondering these questions brings clarity to my vague ideas.

The following is a list of points to consider when creating a society. Feel free to copy and paste it to a page you can print out. Jot the answers next to the questions and refer back to it if the plot raises one of these questions.

How is your society divided? Who has the wealth?

  • Is there a noble class?
  • Is there a servant class?
  • Is there a merchant class
  • Is there a large middle class?
  • Who makes up the most impoverished class?
  • Who has the power, men or women—or is it a society based on mutual respect?

Ethics and Values: What constitutes morality, and how do we treat each other?

  • Is marriage required?
  • How are women treated?
  • How are men treated?
  • How are the different races viewed?
  • Is there a cisgenderbias, or an acceptance of different gender identities?
  • How are same-sex relationships viewed?
  • How are unmarried sexual relationships seen in the eyes of society?
  • How important is human life?
  • How is murder punished?
  • How are betrayal, hypocrisy, envy, and avarice looked upon?
  • What about drunkenness?
  • How important is the truth?
  • What constitutes immorality?
  • How important is it to be seen as honest and trustworthy?
  • What is taboo? What is “simply not done” among that group?

WilliamBlakeImaginationLIRF05072022Power structures are the hierarchies encompassing the leaders and the people with the power. Government is an overall system of restraint and control among selected members of a group. Think of it as a pyramid, a few at the top governing a wide base of citizens.

Religion is rarely a sci-fi trope but often figures prominently in fantasy work. In sci-fi, science and technology often take the place of religion or are at odds with it. They both have similar hierarchies and fanatics, but with different job titles.

Archbishop might be replaced with Head of Research and Development.

Cardinal or Pope might be replaced with GeneralAdmiral, or CEO (Chief Executive Officer).

Level of Technology: What tools and amenities are available to them? What about transport?

  1. Hunter/Gatherers?
  2. Agricultural/farming?
  3. Greco-Roman metallurgy and technology?
  4. Medieval metallurgy and technology?
  5. Pre-industrial revolution or late Victorian?
  6. Modern-day?
  7. Or do they have a magic-based technology?
  8. How do we get around, and how do we transport goods? On foot, by horse & wagon, train, or space shuttle?

Government: There will be a government somewhere, even if it is just the local warlord. Someone is always in charge because it’s easier for the rest of us that way:

  1. Is it a monarchy, theocracy, or a democratic form of government?
  2. How does the government fund itself?
  3. How are taxes levied?
  4. Is it a feudal society?
  5. Is it a clan-based society?
  6. How does the government use and share the available wealth?
  7. How do the citizens view the government?

Crime and the Legal System: What constitutes criminal behavior, and how are criminals treated?

Foreign Relations: Does your country coexist well with its neighbors?

  • If not, why? What causes the tension?
Excalibur London_Film_Museum_ via Wikipedia

Excalibur, London Film Museum via Wikipedia

Waging War: This is another area where we have to ask what their level of technology is. It is critical for you, as the author, to understand what weapons your characters will bring to the front. You must also know what the enemy will be packing. Do the research and choose weaponry that fits your established level of technology.

  • What kind of weaponry will they use?
  • How are they trained?
  • Who goes to battle? Men, women, or both?
  • How does social status affect your ability to gain rank in the military?

A common trope in fantasy is magic, which brings up the need to train magic-gifted people. Do your sorcerers/mages rely on

  • dumb luck and experimentation?
  • apprenticing to sorcerers?
  • training by religious orders?
  • or as in the case of Harry Potter, a school of some sort? What are the rules of your magic?

The Church/Temple is the governing power in many real-world historical societies. The head of the religion is the ruler, and the higher one rises within the religious organization, the more power one has. The same is true of both universities and research facilities.

Power in the hands of only a few people offers many opportunities for mayhem. Zealous followers may inadvertently create a situation where the leader believes they are anointed by the Supreme Deity. Even better, they may become the God-Emperor/Empress.

lute-clip-artThe same sort of God complex occurs among academicians and scientists. Some people are prone to excess when presented with the opportunity to become all-powerful.

If you were unsure what your plot was before you got to this stage, now you might have a real villain, one presented to you by your society.

What sort of society do you envision in your world? How does that culture shape your characters?

Being the leader means bearing responsibility when things go wrong. Scrambling to keep things afloat occurs far more often than basking in the glory.

When things are going well, it’s good to be the queen.

However, the Tiara of Shame weighs heavily when things go awry—and that is when we have a story.


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Characterization – The Art of Naming Characters #amwriting

When laying down the first draft of a work in progress, I always give every walk-on a name, right down to the dog. I generally write with an outline, but during NaNoWriMo, my stream of consciousness takes over, and the story veers away from the outline.

namesOnce NaNoWriMo is over, I try to shave my cast of thousands down to a reasonable level.

What is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen. I say introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but use common sense.

I now have 3 hard and fast rules for deciding who should be named and who should not. Sometimes I am good at following them. Other times—not.

  1. Is this character someone the reader should remember?Even if they offer information the protagonist and reader must know, it doesn’t necessarily mean they must be named. Throw-away characters provide clues to help our protagonist complete their quest. Also, they can show us something about the protagonist and give hints about their personality or past.
  2. Does the person return later in the story, or are they just set dressing? Are they part of the scenery of, say, a coffee shop or a store? They don’t need a name if they are only a component of world-building.
  3. Only give names to characters who advance the plot.

In my experience as a reader, the pacing an author is trying to establish comes to a halt when a character who is only included for the ambiance has too much time devoted to them. If they are set dressing, they should be nameless.

When we are writing a scene, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do these people advance the plot?
  • Do they help or hinder the protagonist in some crucial way?
  • Do they provide essential background information we won’t get any other way?
  • Is their presence a necessary part of world-building?

storybyrobertmckeeTake a second look at the characters in each scene and remove those with no real purpose. (Save everything you cut in a separate file—you might want to reuse these characters someday.)

This is true of a novel, a screenplay, or a short story. Names alert us, telling us a character will have an important role in the story.

  • Ask yourself if the character is an example of “Chekhov’s Gun.”
  • Does this character serve a purpose the reader must know? If not, don’t give them a name.

Novelists can learn a lot about writing a good, concise scene from screenwriters.

  • An excellent book on craft, and one I highly recommend, is Story by Robert McKee.

We want the reader to stay focused on the protagonist(s) and their story. In the second draft, we hunt for the distractions we may have inadvertently introduced in our first draft. Having too many named characters in a scene is easy to fix.

  • We remove side characters from the scene if they have nothing to contribute.
  • Walk-on characters can be identified in general terms. The reader will move on and forget about them.

When Joley entered the café, all the seats were taken but one at the counter between a man in paint-stained coveralls and a woman with a briefcase at her feet. She caught Nathan’s eye, and he brought her a coffee. “We need to talk,” she whispered.

“I get off at four,” he replied. He refilled several coffees at the counter, then carried the pot to the tables.

The tendency to make every character a memorable person is one we can’t indulge. The reader will become confused if too many characters are named.

When I first began writing full-time, I learned a lesson the hard way about naming characters. I have a main character named Marya in one of my early novels, and she’s central to the series. Also, in the first book, a side character was important enough to have a name, but my mind must have been in a rut when I thought that one up. For some stupid reason, I named her Marta.

You can probably see where this is going—the two names are nearly identical.

name quote, richard II shakespeareWhat is even worse, halfway through the first draft of the second book in the series, Marta suddenly was a protagonist with a significant storyline. She actually becomes Marya’s mother-in-law in the third book. Fortunately, I was in the final stage of editing book one for publication. I immediately realized I had to make a major correction: Marta was renamed Halee.

But how do names play out in real life? In my family, “Robert” is a recurring name.

My father was named Robert, and my two brothers are both named Robert (with different middle names). My mother’s younger brother is also a Robert. My younger brother’s son is named Robert, as is his son. We have a Bob, a Little Bob, a Rob, a Bobby, a Robby, and a Quatro. Two Bobs are no longer with us, but the confusion continues with each new generation of Roberts in our family.

I took this absurdity to an extreme in Billy Ninefingers. In Waldeyn, the most common boy’s name is William, which is why Billy MacNess embraces the name his mercenaries give him after the injury – Billy Ninefingers. In that novel, anyone named William generally goes by their last name or their trade. Think Mason, Sawyer, etc., etc.

Other than Billy Ninefingers, where the overuse of one name was intentional and integral to the story, my personal rule is to NEVER name two characters so that the first and last letters of their names are the same.

I try never to have two names that begin with the same letter, but that becomes difficult.

But in a scene, who should go and who should stay? And what is the optimal number of characters for a book? Some say only four, others fifteen.

I feel an author should introduce however many characters it takes to tell the story but should also use common sense.

One last thing to consider: how will that name be pronounced when read aloud? You may not want to get too fancy with the spelling, so a reader can easily read that name aloud. You may not think that matters, but it does.

I read Tad Williams’ Memory Sorrow and Thorn series aloud to my youngest daughter when she was old enough to appreciate and understand it. (I was too cheap to pay for cable television, and it kept my teenager from being bored.) I will just say that while his narrative is brilliant and engrossing, many of those names took some practice to say without stumbling.

Epic Fails meme2Names are also a component of world-building. While recording Tales from the Dreamtime, a novella consisting of three fairy tales, my narrator had trouble pronouncing the names of two characters. This happened because I had written the names so they would feel foreign and look good on paper.

Despite my experience of reading fantasy books aloud to my children, it didn’t occur to me that the names were unpronounceable as they were written. We ironed that out, but that hiccup taught me to spell names the way they’re pronounced whenever possible.

In conclusion, don’t confuse your readers by giving unimportant walk-on characters names.

Never give two characters names that are nearly identical.

Do consider making your spellings of names and places pronounceable just in case you decide to have your novel made into an audiobook.


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