6 Tricks To Make Your Writing More Believable

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Hi there! I hope you are enjoying your day so far. It’s been chilly here, but I love to bundle up with a cozy sweater and a book. I hope you’ve been practicing some fall self-care.

Something a lot of new writers struggle with is believability in their story.

Either you know you struggle with it, or this is news to you, and you should go check your manuscript!

Whether this is tough for you, or you think you have the hang of it, I thought I’d share 5 tips that I have found useful to make my stories more believable.

Your readers are smart, and they have high standards!

Give your book the best chance it’s got at being a success!

Quick note: Keep in mind that these rules are here to guide you. But rules are meant to be broken, and you’ll find that a lot of good writers out there do! Just make sure that any rule you break, you have a good reason for doing so.

Keep It Simple

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I can’t stress this enough.

Simplify, simplify, SIMPLIFY!

You do not need to come up with an alternative unit of measure. The metric system is fine, unless there’s a really good reason you can’t use it… Like you’re an American and you just feel this desperate need to measure things differently and call football soccer.

You do not need to talk about lands and nations that have nothing to do with your plot, that your characters never come from or travel to.

You do not need to list every species of make-believe animal if your character never encounters them.

You don’t need to give me the life story of every character in the story, just give me relevant details. Drop hints here and there.

Like getting to know someone in real life, the beauty is in taking it slow, finding hidden gems along the way. I don’t need to know everything all at once.

You’re writing a book: Annie Saves The World.

Annie’s a superhero. She kicks butt. She looks good doing it. She makes friends and saves the world in the way only a super cool heroine can.

I don’t care that Annie went to Harvard and took a pottery class in her second semester and has a cousin named Joe… Unless of course Joe becomes a prominent figure in the story and Annie saves the world with her homemade fruit bowl.

Let’s cut to the chase: the only scenes you should include in your novel are ones that further your plot!

Not only does this tighten up your writing and assist with pacing, but it keeps your readers engaged, and prevents confusion later on.

If you tell me Annie took a pottery class in her second semester at Harvard, I’m going to spend the entire book wondering when she saves the world with her homemade fruitbowl, and how Joe helped her do it. And when this doesn’t happen, I’m going to be annoyed! Because my precious time was wasted on useless information. Now I’m questioning everything!

Add depth. Develop your characters. Know Annie took a pottery class in her second semester of Harvard, write out her entire class schedule if you feel like it! But for goodness sake, don’t tell me unless I need to know.

Little tid-bits of information are so much more juicy than an info-dump.

Give me the information I need to understand the story. No more. No less.

What is it people always say about creating a good lie? Too many details shows your hand. Keep it simple. Don’t give me anything to question.

If you don’t know how something works in your novel, DON’T TALK ABOUT IT.

If you have to explain it, but you still have no idea (you should probably work on your world building), show your character being confused about it.

“Why is it like that?”
“I have no clue, it’s just always been that way.”

That makes sense to a reader. They had the same question! Now they relate to your character.

If you don’t know every detail about how the government works in your novel, and you don’t need to talk about it, DON’T! No one will ask “but is it a democracy? Aristocracy?” if you’re not writing anything about government or the running of this world!

Don’t make your reader ask irrelevant questions.

Stick to your story. Stick to the facts of your world.

Keep your reader on a need-to-know basis.

Motivate Your Characters

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Have you ever read a story where half way through you just think, “Why is this character doing this?”

That’s a sign you aren’t believing the story!

In real life, every person has independent thoughts, feelings, and goals.

You need to show that in your novel!

Even your side characters want something, and it’s not always just to help the MC.

You should have an idea of what every character’s overarching goal is in the story, and also give them little wants and needs along the way. Make them want a friend. A glass of water. Make them want to save their family. Make them want a cookie.

Annie wants to save the world. Great… but why?

Let’s just assume for a second that Annie is an imperfect sentient being. We’re selfish. We do stupid things. We don’t want to save the world, we want to save the world because this is where our family is! Or because this is where donuts are! Or because saving the world would make us look good…

Now Annie’s friend Dante is helping her save the world. He’s handsome as heck. Abs you could bake cookies on. Does that hair flip thing. But why is he helping? Does he just want to look good? Or maybe he’s just a genuinely good person, and feels it’s the right thing to do.

Even your villain needs a motivation! No one is evil for the sake of being evil. They believe they are doing something right, or at least something with purpose.

Is your villain trying to blow up the world because someone hurt them, and now they want to inflict pain on others? Or are they a researcher who’s science went to their head and they believe the only way to save the planet is to rid it of it’s greatest threat: humans.

I don’t care what the reason is, but everyone has to have one.

You don’t have to relate to it to make it believable. There just needs to be some kind of logic behind it. Some way that the character can believe in it completely.

Because if your character doesn’t believe in something, why would your reader?

It’s also important to give your reader an urgent feeling. You can do this by motivating your character to keep moving forward.

Every decision your character makes needs to be driven by something, and your reader shouldn’t be able to ask “why wouldn’t they just do this?”

Make sure that when presenting your character with an option: fight or don’t, the alternative is not a viable option. They must fight, because they will die if they do not.

They must eat, because they like waffles!

They must go get something from a far-off land, despite the fact that it will take them longer to reach their overarching goal, because without this item they can’t win the war!

Always give your character a logical reason to need things. This way, your reader won’t question their decisions.

Outline Your Plot

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I don’t care if you’re a Pantser, you have to have a plan!

You cannot write a story without some idea of the end goal.

You need to know where you’re going. You need an inciting incident. You need a midpoint.

Just like your character needs goals, so does your plot!

When you are planning your novel, even if you’re a Pantser and do the bare minimum here, you need to create some structure for your story.

A general idea of the events that will take place, and in what order.

This way, you have a direction.

This adds to believability because it keeps your reader engaged. An engaged reader doesn’t have time to let their mind wander.

It also lends support to your arguments, to your plot as a whole.

Annie wants to save the world. We have her motivation: she thinks it will make her look good. But what is the inciting incident, the point of no return where she must make this choice? When does she have a change of perspective? When does she learn a lesson, and come to the realization that maybe she should save the world because she loves people, not just because she loves looking good?

I suggest you look into the Save The Cat Method. I used it and it made a huge difference in my outlining! I love to create an outline, but when it comes to writing, I’m more of a Pantser. This method helped me create an idea, a ladder to climb, but didn’t stifle the creativity of figuring it out as I go.

An outline also helps you stay on track with your story.

I have read (and beta-read) so many books where it seemed like the author got distracted and wandered off in a different direction for a while before coming back.

This gave me time to wonder “Why is this happening?” and “Why is that like this?” but it also made me question the story as a whole.

Once the reader is not engaged, once you wake them from the dream, they begin to question everything.

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

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I do this all the time while writing!

As I’m typing, I close my eyes and I picture myself in the situation I’m describing.

What does it smell like? What do I hear? What am I touching? Tasting?

Using all the senses immerses the reader and helps them believe that, yes, this is happening!

You’re reading a scene where Annie is fighting for her life. Close your eyes and picture yourself as Annie. Someone swings a sword at you (and you have butt-kickery training) what do you do? Do you duck? Do you parry? Do you hear the zing of steel cutting through the air? Do feel your heart pounding in your chest? Does fear shoot through you like lightning?

Dive in. You can always trim back during your edits!

What’s important here is that you’re making sure what the character is doing is believable.

If I have butt-kickery training and someone swings a sword at my head, I would probably parry. My training would kick in and my muscles would spring into action. Really, duck OR parry would be believable in this situation.

What wouldn’t be believable is if you screamed and ran away.

You have butt-kickery training. You’d have to have a dang good reason to scream and run.

You’re probably thinking, “MK, that’s ridiculous. I would never write that into a scene.” But you’d be surprised!

This is a betrayal of character, when you have developed a personality for your character and you go against it in words or actions, and it happens ALL THE TIME. Especially with newer writers!

If your character is soft spoken and kind, they’re not going to just walk up and punch another character in the face. That wouldn’t be believable.

Now if said soft spoken and kind character sees someone being abused, and they have a protective streak, they’d totally punch someone in the face! But you have to set up that protective streak ahead of time. Put it in their back story, or show hints of it in small, casual ways.

If you’re pushing your character outside their usual pattern of behavior, you just need a good reason!

It’s all about perspective. Make sure that whatever you’re writing into your scene, it makes sense for the character! There needs to be a logical build up.

Literally imagine yourself as that character, with that character’s personality and goals. What would you do in their shoes?

Backstory & Foreshadowing

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Foreshadowing and backstory have some similarities, but for the purposes of your plot they are very different.

Backstory is a character’s history.

Foreshadowing is pieces of a character’s experience that hints at their future.

How do you make your story believable through these tools?

Develop a thorough backstory. A well-rounded character is a believable character.

As I said before, you don’t have to mention every detail. In fact, you shouldn’t! But knowing these details makes you believe in the character, and that will show through in your writing.

Annie has a brother named Paul and a cousin named Joe. Her parents live in Pasadena and are both lawyers. She grew up in boarding schools and her best friend’s name was Maria, but they don’t speak anymore.

That’s a lot of info!

Her parents were lawyers, so that might influence her personality. You can show that without explicitly saying they were lawyers, then reveal it later. It will give your reader that ah-hah! moment they want. This is all back story.

Now if you were to tell the reader her parents were lawyers who worked cases to do with high-body-count criminals, and you had heard them talking about one in particular as a child, then it later comes out that criminal is the big bad villain, that’s foreshadowing!

Maria shows up later in the novel, and has the key to saving the world.

Joe turns out to be on the bad side.

Paul dies.

These scenes all make these random facts worth mentioning. If these scenes didn’t happen, you really wouldn’t have needed to mention them.

Just let these unspoken pieces of a character’s history influence who they are in the present day.

How does a girl with an older brother typically act when compared with a girl with a younger brother?

How does having lawyers for parents affect her personality?

What scars did living in a boarding school leave on Annie’s psyche? What strengths?

A well-developed back story lends believability to your character. Foreshadowing (when done well) adds believability to your plot.

When your reader has that ah-hah! moment, they believe this story is going somewhere. “Ah hah! This is all making sense now.”

Dots are connecting.

Synapses are firing.

Your reader is squeeing.

You are creating a dream for your reader. Backstory and foreshadowing are just more layers you add to it.

Dive into some psychology! How does your character’s history affect their present state of mind? Their goals? Their fears?

Drop hints like two chickadees dropping breadcrumbs through the forest.

Create a logical path for your reader to follow.

You’d be amazed about how many happy coincidences happen simply because you created a well-developed character and world.

If you know your character well enough, you will weave their history into their present and create believability for your reader without even trying!

Fact Check

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This is a big one! Last but certainly not least.

Make sure that whatever “facts” you’re putting into your novel, they’re either real, or real enough to be explained.

Do you research.

Look into personality.

Look into the affects of the childhood trauma you want your character to go through.

Read stories from real people who identify as your character identifies.

You can’t really over-research (unless you’re just using it as procrastination).

All these little factoids will swim around in your brain as you write, and the surety you have from them will shine through, building confidence with your reader.

Everything in your novel should either be real, or explainable.

Are vampires real in your novel? Great! But you need to be able to tell me how they came to be. Or at the very least, tell me no one knows how they came to be, they’ve just always been.

Did you make up some animals for your novel? Cool! But if you just made random animals and didn’t pull them from mythology or other stories, you’re going to have to explain them to your reader somehow.

Do humans have powers? Excellent! How did they get them, and what are their limitations?

Fact checking also comes into play here.

I can’t stress this enough.

Check. Your. FACTS!

If you don’t know how something works, research it!

Writing about mermaids?

You need to know how breathing works.

You need to know how behavior works in aquatic species.

You need to know how wound treatment is different below the water.

You need to know how reproduction works.

I don’t care if you mention it in your novel or not, but you have to know these things.

If there’s anything you are questioning, but you decide to just glaze over it, your reader will find it. They are bloodhounds. They will scent weakness and they will root it out.

They will mention it on Goodreads.

You will cry.

Research your story, your plot, your people. Have everything squared away before you start writing.

Then just write your story. You don’t need to drop facts. If you researched well enough, they will shine through.

BONOUS TIP!

Make sure that when one of your characters is hurt or injured, you are consistent with it throughout your story.

Your character cannot get shot in the arm, then climb a tree ten minutes later.

Maybe this is a fantasy novel. Maybe you’re writing a super tough character. They will power through a lot, you say. They can handle it, you say.

But bloodloss is a real thing.

Having an arrow in your leg hurts like heck.

Slicing open your skin leaves a scar.

Make sure it hinders your character in a realistic way.

I’d suggest doing research on whatever injury you want your character to endure. Both from a medical and patient’s perspective.

What is the treatment plan and healing process?

How does it feel to have an injury like this?

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I hope you found these tips useful!

If you have any suggestions that helped you write a believable story, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

As always, take care of yourself! You are your top priority.

Writing can wait if your mental health demands it.

Sending love,

MK

This boi wants to write a story where tennis balls can throw themselves, but he knows it has to be believable so he is going to say a wizard enchanted them. Yeah. That works.

How to Build a Fantasy World Part 3: Land

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Hi there! How are you this week? Keep in mind that just because Suicide Prevention Month is technically over, that doesn’t mean those dark thoughts just disappear. You can ask for help any month of the year. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you love, to me, or to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you need to talk to someone 800-273-8255. ❤

You’re not finished yet.

You have stories to tell.

Speaking of stories…

Wow, excellent segue. Very smooth.

If you’ve been following along with this series, you should have a pretty firm grasp of how your world operates by now.

If you haven’t yet, check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to make sure you’re getting all that World-Building awesomeness at your disposal!

So if you’re reading this, I’m assuming you know how your societies operate, your magic system is in place, your deities are properly situated, and all your laws are tied up with a neat little bow.

What’s left, you ask?

Excellent question!

Geography, Climate, and Flora & Fauna.

Let’s do this, people.

Geography:

What does this land look like?

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This can be a bit daunting for a lot of writers, but can I be honest? It’s my absolute favorite!

It’s so fun. Let me show you how:

Quick note: You should create your land with your story in mind. You don’t need to know the shape of every continent if your story never leaves the area. You should know where your character needs to go, and important locations/landmarks, so you can include them in your map.

I used this site to build my maps. It’s totally free and so easy to use!

You can ask it to create something for you, or you can just start building!

I usually start with an idea in mind, then kinda randomly go from there.

Does your MC travel through a forest? Add it!

Is there a mountain range that surrounds there hometown? Cool, put it in!

Do you like lakes? Add one! Add three!

Just keep in mind as you are beginning to imagine and build your map, you do need to follow the basic rules of geography (unless there’s a magical reason why you don’t).

If you really need a particular landmark, but it’s not within the realm of the “possible”, make it magical!

A wizard grew that mountain from the roots of an ancient river.

There is a forest in the middle of the desert because a fairy with a pension for chaos decided to put it there.

So, in short, make it possible, or make it magical. But, whatever you do, you have to make it believable. You never want to pull your reader’s head out of the story.

So lets talk about some simple rules really quickly before you start drafting your map.

-Mountains form because of tectonic plates. They will form in natural lines, not just at random (unless there’s a really good reason).
-Rivers flow towards the sea. Branches of the river may flow into each other to form one large river, but they will not split apart before they reach the sea.
-Land is warmest near the equator and gets colder the further you go in EITHER direction.
-Climate is influenced by geography. Mountains create a natural barrier that trap air and moisture. Often, one side of a mountain range is colder and/or wetter than the other.
-Forests are often in wetlands. They can be mild climates, or extreme, but almost always wet. Think of tropical rainforests versus temperate forests. Hot & humid, or cold & misty.

Bad Example:
The map from A Court Of Thornes And Roses.
Guys… I love these books but… this map is not good. I’m sorry.
The mountains are all over the place.
The rivers branch off in unnatural ways.
There’s a random mountain IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAND with no other mountains around it, but we’re not given a real reason for this happened, except that it’s a magical place, but… That doesn’t explain why Mass just said NOPE to basic geography. Tell me a wizard put it there. Tell me a Queen died there and from her body, a mountain took root. I don’t know but…
Tectonic plates are a thing. Give it a Google.

Awesome Example:
The map from Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard is BEAUTIFULLY done.
Not just the illustration, but the way she laid out the land.
You can tell she used the Mediterranean as her inspiration.
It’s very clear how borders came to be between kingdoms (natural boundaries like rivers/forests/mountains).
Rivers flow to the sea. Mountains are found in groups or trails across the land (that’s how tectonic plates work).
Just really well-crafted. Take a look if you need inspiration. She also did a video on her Insta about how she made it and that really helped me with my mapmaking.

I am far from a geography expert. These are simply things I have gleaned from my own research. I highly suggest doing more research if you’re going to focus on geography in your story.

After that, just play around with whatever you’re using to create your map. Work on it until it feels right to you.

Climate:

Weather & what it means for your story.

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So as I mentioned before, climate is very much influenced by geography.

Mountains trap moisture and air.

It’s hotter the closer you get to the equator, colder the further you get from it.

Thank about how your geography might impact climate, and determine what the weather will be typically like for your society.

What implications does this have for their way of life?

While modern societies have learned to run with nearly any climate, your society might not have such modern conveniences.

How will your characters need to adapt in order to survive in this land?

How have societies tailored their cities, their way of life, to fit the demands of their climate?

A lot of research has been done into the behavioral differences between cultures in different climates.

Give us some weirdly specific facts!

Example:
Here in Portland, it rains all the time. Like 8-9 months out of the year.
But we have this weird cultural faux pas where you can’t use umbrellas.
Everyone knows you’re not from here if we see you using an umbrella. And we WILL make jokes about you. We WILL give you weird looks. We WILL pretend not to know you.
Is shielding yourself from the elements a sign of weakness? Is wet hair a weird fashion statement? No clue. All I know is that it rains here all the time, but I’m not even sure I own an umbrella. And I certainly wouldn’t be caught dead using one.

Flora & Fauna:

The types of plants and animals that live in this land.

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Climate and geography will have a big impact on the types of plants and animals in the land. So it’s important to determine climate before you really get underway.

Is your story in a desert? You’re probably not going to see many trees or leafy plants.

Is your story in a wetland? Your character might not even know what a camel is.

If you’ve modeled your land after somewhere in real life, try researching what kind of plants and animals live there! This will make the story more realistic.

Using a made-up language in your story? Use a word from that language to name some common plants or animals.

Make up your own creatures for this land based in lore or your own imagination.

The sky really is the limit when it comes to writing fantasy.

The key here is just to have a list in mind so that if your character is walking through the street, you know what kind of animal is rummaging through the trash beside them. If they venture into the woods, you know what they need to be wary of. What they can eat. What might make them sick. Or try to eat them.

As long as you are able to make it believable, you can add whatever feels right to you!

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I hope you found this guide helpful!

Make sure to keep up with your writing this week.

Even a paragraph is better than nothing.

Sending love,

MK

Do you have a Linux beast in your fantasy world? He’s a good boi, so I’d highly recommend it.

How to Build a Fantasy World Part 2: Systems

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Hi there! How are you this week? Are you taking care of yourself? Make sure you’re balancing work and mental health. ❤

If you’re a writer, especially a fantasy or sci-fi writer, you are familiar with World Building.

Or maybe you’re not, and that’s why you’re here! Hah!

World Building is the term the writing community uses to describe creating the world for your book. This is so much more than just a map.

If you haven’t already, check out Part 1 to make sure you’re getting all the steps!

This part will be all about systems.

Quick note: This will be a bit more challenging if you haven’t already determined the details of your culture, listed in Part 1 of this 3 part series.

So, what systems am I talking about, exactly?

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What you need to think about here is Government, Infrastructure, Economy, Agriculture, and Magic.

Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds!

I’ll break it down for you and give you some questions to answer so that you can flesh out the details.

Government:

How is this society ruled?

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Is there a monarchy? A chief? Is this a democratic society? A lawless land?

Logistically, how does this place work? Every society needs laws or boundaries, even if they aren’t a sovereign nation.

Even if the law is “there is no law”.

While you don’t need to write out a bunch of laws or create in-depth systems of government for every aspect of your society, you do need to think about what your character will encounter in their story.

Will they have a run-in with the law? Do they ever talk about the governance of their land or peoples? Are there limitations to what they can do/where they can go?

Who would they ask for help if the situation called for it?

Example:
The Selection by Kiera Cass is set in a dystopian society.
This society has social classes and a monarchy (among many other things – read the book for more detail).
This way of governing has a massive impact on the MC and her life. Her family’s income, her future, her career, who she can marry…
Cass had to create this governing body. She drew on real-life examples and added in a little hand-waving.
Do we know every single detail of how the government operates? No. But do we need to? Also no!
We know what is pertinent to the story. What gives it depth.
Definitely read this book if you’re looking for an example of good fantasy government building.

In this vein, you should also take a moment to think about how this society relates to other cultures. Trade? Arranged marriages? Wars?

Do they have allies? Do they have enemies?

Again – don’t worry about this if it isn’t necessary to YOUR story. If you never mention another society in your book, then who cares that they signed a peace treaty with them 30 years ago?

On the other hand, the more detailed you plan this society, the easier it will be to write your story. Don’t go into crazy, unnecessary details, but have a firm grasp of how this place works.

Believability is EVERYTHING.

While you don’t need every single detail of the society planned out, having that idea in your head can add depth to the story, even if you don’t specifically put those facts in. This will happen simply because you know it works, so it will be easier to convince your reader it works.

Infrastructure:

The layout of this society and how they get around within it.

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Here, you need to think roads and homes.

What kind of roads run through the main city? The suburbs? Dirt, gravel, cement, traffic in the sky?

It can be good to sketch out a map here so that you can keep the layout straight in your head as you are drafting your story.

How do they travel within their area? To faraway places?

What do the homes look like? Modern homes made of wood and plaster? Lean-tos with thatched rooves? Houses made of packed dirt?

No houses at all, but tents or wagons for a nomadic society?

What do the rulers live in and how is it different from what the poor live in?

Think about the layout of your city. How do you get around? Where do you need to go on a regular basis?

Do they have grocery stores? Markets?

Is there piped water? Electricity?

How do they heat their homes? Cook dinner?

Do they trade with other societies?

These should all be appropriate to the time period of your story.

Example:
Throne of Glass is set in a time period before most modern conveniences, however they have running water for the sake of the story.
Maas just kinda does some hand-waving around how this is possible, but she does it so well that, as the reader, you don’t really care!
Sometimes having the character admit they don’t know how something works, or that something is weird, can be all the explanation you need.
“I don’t get how it works, but it does, so I get to enjoy the benefits of other people’s brainpower!”

While there are so many details you can and should come up with here, the main ones you should be thinking about are what will directly impact your story.

You don’t need to know they fly in blimps to visit distant lands if they don’t use them, or ever visit distant lands, during the story…

Economy:

Money and its various uses.

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Unless you have an economy-focused story, there’s really no need to get into the nitty-gritty here.

At a certain point, giving a ton of details can actually create less clarity and more questions.

If you say there are banks and the currency is gold, awesome! As a reader, I believe that.

If you say there are banks and then there’s this detailed system behind it, oh and there’s the treasury, and the money is based on this physical resource, and you pay for food with gold but you pay rent with favors, and we trade with other nations using livestock and then there is this system of credit and…

Oh gosh! That is so confusing. As a reader, I’m lost. And to be honest, I don’t really care… Unless there’s a specific plot-based reason I should.

Keep it simple, friends.

Here are the questions you do need to be able to answer:

What does their money look like? Gold, bills, coins, favors, life-force, etc.
How much is that money worth? What does a set of clothes cost? A dinner out? A month’s rent?
What relationship does this society have with money (greedy, rich, poor, give tithe to their religion, etc.)?
What relationship does your character have with money?

If there is anything else (story specific) that you can think of, certainly work that out.

But, again, keep it simple!

Less is more.

Lies are best crafted when they don’t have too many details. We know this, we were all teenagers at some point in time.

Agriculture:

Farming & Food. It’s that simple, folks.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Pexels.com

The main questions you need to ask yourself here are:

What does this society eat? Is there a difference between food of the rich and poor?

Do they grow food, or have it imported? Or is it manufactured?

What kind of crops do they grow, if they grow any at all?

What kind of livestock do they keep, if they keep any at all?

Is the farmland incorporated in the story? If you never need to mention it, then don’t worry about it! If your story is set in a palace where they are waited on hand and foot, never traveling to a farm or speaking of one, then telling your readers about the society’s agriculture is totally unnecessary!

Magic:

The magic system or powers in this society, and the world beyond.

Photo by Joy Marino on Pexels.com

Magic systems can be intricate (and intimidating) even in the most basic of magical stories.

The key things (for a believable magic system) you need to remember are these:

Power comes from somewhere. An god/entity, nature, another person, animals, blood…
There must be a cost. Energy, life, time, memories, beauty…
There must be rules or guidelines (cannot create life or love is really common).
There must be a limit to how much power someone can have or use (whether you grow tired or the cost is too great).

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Who possesses magic/powers?
What kind of magic/power is it?
What is the cost of using it?
Is magic/power evil? Good? Or is it simply a tool as good as its user?
Is magic/power a secret, or does everyone know about it?
Does magic/power elevate someone’s social status, or lower it?
If someone uses too much power, what happens to them? Body/Mind/Soul.
Is the magic/power tied to religion in some way?

Now, if you’re talking about powers, it will be a bit different, but still the same premise!

Where does it come from, who has it, what are the limitations?

Example (magic):
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin has a magic system that trades memories for power. The bigger the power, the more important the memory.
This has grave repercussions for the user as they change every time they lose these pieces of themselves.

Example (powers):
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard uses powers instead of magic.
The power seems to come from inside them, and is based on some kind of inner well of energy. It can be drained and refilled. There are limits, which are different for every powered individual.
There are many different types of power, and groups who have the same power, but everyone seems to have their own spin on it.
Aveyard even goes into lovely detail of explaining how this was some kind of mutation, elevating powered members of society to a higher social status, creating a rift between peoples.

Keep in mind that this is all up to your imagination!

Go crazy, make weird rules and exceptions, do something no one’s done before!

Just keep in mind that the questions above, while only a helpful guide, will help you create a believable magic system.

If you don’t care about believability, then by all means, make power unlimited and free for all! It’s your story!


I hope this guide has been helpful for you in creating the systems within your world!

Don’t forget to check out the first post here on Culture.

Next post next Friday will be the 3rd and final part of this series.

Take care of yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you love this week!

Sending love,

MK

Linux would create a world where magic tennis balls are tossed all day in fields of dog treats, and human hands never tire of belly rubs.

How to Build a Fantasy World Part 1: Culture

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See Disclaimers for more details.

Hi there! Hope you’re healthy – body, mind, & soul! You are your top priority so make sure you’re giving yourself the effort you deserve! ❤

As you may know from previous posts/Instagram, I have a “finished” manuscript to my first novel floating around.

I had to take a step back and get some more beta readers because I wasn’t having much luck with querying. So it may be a while yet until my baby is out on the shelves.

That being said, I wanted to chat about how I build my worlds.

World-Building is my absolute favorite part about crafting a story.

I love drawing the map, creating cultures, thinking up religions… All of it!

Because there are so many details, I thought one big post might be overwhelming.

So I broke it out into 3 parts that you can follow along. I will post them every Friday.

Keep in mind, this guide will be specifically for fantasy/sci-fi stories, or any story set in another world. Basing your story on the real world is a whole different game.

This first part will be all about culture.

Quick note: If you have multiple nations within your novel, you will have to repeat these processes for each one!

Photo by Askar Abayev on Pexels.com

Another quick Note: You should have a basic premise of your story already in place before you begin. This way, you stay on track and only build what you need.

Culture is basically the customs and social interactions of a set of people.

This includes behaviors, social structure, the way people dress and act, language, etc.

This can be quite the hefty task, but it can be done if you break it down.

You’ll need 4 basic pieces: Appearance, Belief System, Social structure, and Language.

Appearance:

What do people look like, and how do they adorn themselves?

Photo by Tru1ea7n Long on Pexels.com

Most of the time, my MC comes to me fully formed.

Hair color, skin color, physical attributes, personality, skills…

Sometimes they even come with clothing preferences, and I shape their culture to make sense within those guidelines.

But it’s ok if you’re not sure yet. That’s where the creative part comes in!

The main question you need to ask yourself here is how does the majority of this society look, physically?

Are there major differences between people (some have two sets of arms, some don’t), or subtle ones (run-of-the-mill gene recombination)?

Are they human, animal, a mixture, humans with non-human qualities (claws)?

Wings? Pointed ears? Tusks? Cat whiskers?

Are they not human at all? Perhaps snakes or wolves or fish?

Example:
The people of A Court of Thornes and Roses series by Sarah J Maas vary between societies.
There are the humans and the fae, with all the normal differences to be expected between people born to the same society but different parents. Then there are other societies like the Ilyrians, the “lesser faries”, the Valkyries (a society but not a race).
This is a great example of variance between cultures, but also within cultures.
You’re only limited by your imagination!

Let’s remember here that you will have a wide variety of readers who will be different from you in a variety of ways.

The assumption that white & light eyed & able-bodied & neurotypical is the norm, and anything else is “other”, is not one that will do you any favors in your writing.

Nor will it serve your readers.

Please keep in mind that differences in skin color, hair color, eye color, gender, preference, abilities, and so much more are the things that make this world BEAUTIFUL.

And you have a moral obligation to be inclusive and respectful in your stories, regardless of what you look like, regardless of your abilities and preferences, regardless of your upbringing.

*dismounts soapbox*

Another piece of appearance is adornment: how does this society dress?

This can be a result of climate, beliefs, societal norms, and also personal preference (just like the real world).

You will need to decide what kind of clothes the society wears, as well as specifically what each of your characters prefer to wear.

Cold, snowy climate? Furs and boots will be pretty common! But maybe you have a weird character who refuses to wear long pants. Maybe he likes to feel the chill wind rustle his lower leg hairs.

What kind of jewelry does this society wear? And is there a difference between the classes?

Everyone has earrings, but only the rich have nose rings.

No one except the “low class” wear jewelry because it’s considered vain and sacrilegious.

Do people have tattoos? Do they have cultural significance, or are they simply personal preference?

There are lots of ways to adorn a body, and not all of them might be common to your own society, so don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

This is a fantasy world, after all!

Belief System:

What does this society believe in?

Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

Is there a deity? Multiple? Strict atheism? Do they hold a set of principles as their belief system (people are inherently good/do whatever you want, damn the consequences/warriors are highly esteemed/children are sacred/etc.)?

This may not look the same across the world, or even across the society.

Think of your own society. Your neighbor may share your belief system, but differ in their principles. Your neighbor may have a different belief system altogether!

Differences can add more believability, because it’s more realistic!

How does their belief system impact their society? Their government? Their customs? Their social interactions?

Think about real societies in our world. Religion/belief has a massive impact on almost every culture in our world. People go to war over beliefs. Borders are set, kingdoms made and broken.

What did religion do to your story’s world?

Example:
Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin is set in a pretty believable world (and kinda familiar). There is the Chruch, which believes witches are evil, and there are witches, who believe magic is only as good or evil as its user.
The religious aspect of this book is so believable because it is so very familiar.
Two sides who each think they are wholly right. Governments and borders formed through the influence of these societies.
I could go on, but it’s a great example of strict religious culture in a story.

Another example (because I can’t help but love this story):
The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E Pearson has, in my humble opinion, some of the best world building I’ve ever seen.
This is a post-apocalyptic world where the religion seems to have formed out of the events and oral accountings of survivors.
I won’t spoil anything for you, but the way Pearson puts in excerpts of religious text really adds depth. And the way everyone’s ideas and practices are a bit different is a beautiful depiction of the way a religion would come to be in this situation.
Highly HIGHLY recommend this series for anyone looking to write a religion-heavy story!

A final question to ask yourself, when it comes to actually writing the story, is how does this belief system affect your character?

In the previous examples, the character’s belief had great power over them. They spoke of it often, even in every-day conversation.

But sometimes religion is more subtle than that.

Take Christianity in the real world: there are the people who pray every day and talk about their beliefs on social media. They wear tshirts and go to concerts. Then there are the “Sunday Christians” who, for all intents and purposes, no one can tell are even religious until they show up to church.

I’m not giving you a lecture on right and wrong in our world, I’m simply giving an example that is familiar to me.

Is your character devout? Or are they “situationally religious”?

Is their society strictly religious, or do they allow an ebb and flow depending on personal preference?

Social structure:

Basically, how do your people interact with each other?

Photo by Joy Anne Pura on Pexels.com

This may already be taking shape after your government and religion are in place. Excellent!

But let’s ask a few questions to make sure you’re solid.

Are there castes/classes that aren’t defined by government but by social interaction (rich vs. poor, religious vs. secular)?

How does this society treat its poor?

Its elderly?

Its women? Its men? Its non-binary?

What is the separation like between the working class and the aristocrats?

Is there a mixture of backgrounds/cultures/ethnicities, or is the society pretty closed off? On that note, how do they treat outsiders?

What are their relations to other nations in their world, and opinions of cultures that are not their own?

How does this society view gender? Sexual preference?

What are “taboos” that people can’t or don’t talk about (sex, religion, money, political views, background, job, etc.)?

Example:
In The Unspoken Name by A. K. Larkwood, there are multiple worlds, each with a unique society.
You can tell the differences as the MC travels worlds, going from a soft-spoken, religious society, to tougher, louder societies focused on fighting, to more scholarly societies. These differences are cultural, and the people will act accordingly (to a certain extent).
You can see the differences in worlds simply by the descriptions of interactions. There are even differences in appearance, due to the different worlds they come from.

This is a lot of questions, I know! But thinking through these details is really important to your story. You need to have a working knowledge of how this society interacts with each other so that your characters act in a way that fits the culture you’ve created.

Language:

Is there another language in your story?

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

The fact of the matter is, unless there’s some magical or story-based reason, your world will have differences in language (among many other things) between societies.

The easiest way to go about this is to stick to one culture, so all your characters speak one language.

If there are multiple languages, you can let the reader know they’re speaking another language, then put the text in italics.

If you want to go down the rabbit trail of creating a fantasy language, my best advice would be to pick a real language, and twist it. I did this for one of my worlds, and it was tough! But it did add a layer of depth to the story.


All in all, when coming up with these pieces of your world, try to keep your character and your story in mind.

Think about your characters and the dynamic you want them to have.

Are they Poor/Rich? Extroverted/Introverted? Do they have jobs? Are they in the ruling class? Are they from another culture entirely?

In answering these questions, you should ask yourself how they interact with their world.

When you think about your character, ask yourself what about their culture, their society, shaped them to be this person? What circumstances or customs pushed them to be who they are today?

Example:
Inej Ghafa from Six Of Crows is reserved and quiet, religious, and fiercely protective of those she loves. She’s a trained acrobat and fighter, and uses her skills to navigate her world.
-She might be reserved and quiet because of her family of origin.
-Religious due to her Suli heritage and her family.
-Fiercely protective because of her traumatic past.
-Her family trained her as an acrobat. It gave her confidence.
-She learned to fight because a friend in her city gave her the opportunity to take her power back.

I suppose, the question for Leigh would be, “What came first, the culture that shaped Inej, or the culture Leigh created to explain how Inej came to be?”

My characters usually come to me fully formed. Physically, mentally, spiritually. So, after that, I shape the culture to fit them.

Sometimes my story changes a bit as I lay out the culture and the geography. Sometimes certain pieces of a character have to shift because they don’t fit, or they create a plot hole.

Truly, you’ll figure it out as you go along. I know that’s not helpful, but just dive in! Think about whether this culture could survive in real life, or if some pieces don’t fit/are missing.

Let’s take a pause here, friends!
You have a moral obligation to make sure your stories include all people, not just those like you.
Ethnicity, identity, beliefs, customs, preferences, abilities, and behaviors vary from person to person. Make sure that your story includes a beautiful variety of people that appropriately and respectfully include the beautiful variety of your readers.
That being said, certain stories are not yours to tell. Make sure you are respectful in your depiction of an experience that does not resemble your own.

I hope this guide helps some fellow authors out there!

Part 2 coming next Friday!

I’d love to hear about your WIP or see the beautiful cultures you create in the comments below, or in my inbox.

Don’t forget to write this week!

Sending love,

MK

If Linux practiced some world-building, he would make a land full of green grass and sunshine, where rivers of yogurt cascade over mountains of treats, and human slaves play fetch all day.

5 Books That Made Me A Better Writer

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Reading can be a great way to improve your writing. Reading both in and out of your preferred genre can broaden you knowledge of writing and improve your writing skills. As you read, you pick up on things the author did well, and also things they did… not so well. You learn things you like and dislike when it comes to story-telling.

When I started writing, I became a different kind of reader. Before, I read just to experience and consume. Now, I pay attention. Sentence structure. Paragraph layout. Storyline. Character details. Everything. I take note of what I need to improve on (foreshadowing) and things I need to avoid (slow-moving plot).

Below, I have cultivated a few books/series that greatly impacted my writing. From world building to character development, these books taught me a lot about how I want to write my stories.

I hope this list can help you, as well!

The Remnant Chronicles
& Dance of Thieves

Mary E Pearson paints an incredibly vivid and believable world in the Remnant Chronicles, which continues several years later with the Dance of Thieves duology. I loved both of these series, though I prefer the initial trilogy because I felt the pacing was better.

To be honest, the story in the Dance of Thieves duology felt a little forced and unnecessary to me, though I enjoyed it for what I believe Pearson does best: World Building.

World Building, for the newbies out there, is the process of creating your own world for your story. Culture, language, religions, behaviors, plant life, animal life, I could go on, but you get the point. Pearson has created such a vivid and believable world. She even went as far as creating a language and writing poems from some religious texts.

When I started writing my first book (as yet unpublished, though actively searching for agents), I took note of the way she described her landscape, and how the characters interacted with it. At one point, the main character travels across the desert to another land. You can almost feel the heat on your skin, the soreness in your limbs, the chafing of the rope on your wrists.

Her descriptions of the world are so immersive, you can’t help but be sucked in. This is taken even further by not only having a religion, but multiple religions unique to each culture. This is way more believable than a world-wide religion that everybody knows everything about.

Think about our world. How many religions are there? And within one “religion,” how many different sets of beliefs can people practice? How many practitioners of the same exact religion have every piece of knowledge about said religion?

You could see how the religions would have evolved over time. I won’t go into too many details for those who haven’t read it, but this is a post-apocalyptic world, and you can imagine how their “gods” might have come about, how pre-apocalyptic technology would have been viewed as magic, how nuclear missiles could have been misconstrued for stars centuries later.

I highly recommend The Remnant Chronicles, both for enjoyment, and as a form of research for your own writing. If you struggle with world building, or if you are just interested in learning more, these books are an incredible example for you to take note of.

If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate links below.
Remnant Chronicles Dance of Thieves

Six of Crows

The Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo is also a great example for world building for many of the same reasons I listed for The Remnant Chronicles. The culture and religions, the vivid nature of Leigh’s writing, it sweeps you up so thoroughly it can be easy to forget you’re reading!

What I though she did exceptionally well with this duology (better than Shadow & Bone, sorry) is the way she built her characters. She wrote from multiple points of view (POV) throughout these books, and they never blurred together. You could really believe that each character had their own set of wants and desires, goals, fears, likes and dislikes.

She not only made them unique, but also included traits in each character that the reader could identify with. Kaz and Inej were both survivors. They had undergone immense trauma, but rose from the ashes stronger for it. Where Kaz went hard and shut people out, Inej sought compassion and goodness, a higher power. I think everyone can identify with one or both of those on some level.

Each and every character was unique and believable. That’s the other issue you can sometimes run into with character building. Making them unique is one thing, but do the feel real? Can you look at their behavior and say, “oh yeah, I can see why she would say that” or “he’s acting that way because of______”.

This was especially difficult for me in my writing, making sure that each character was unique and not just supporting the protagonist’s goal, but actually having goals of their own. If you want to learn more about character development (and read an awesome book) I highly recommend the Six of Crows duology.

If If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate links below.
Six of Crows Six of Crows Box Set

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor follows in line with the excellent world building and character development of The Remnant Chronicles and Six of Crows. You can see Laini put a great deal of time and research into her story and her characters. It’s beautifully done.

More than that, for me, what stood out in this book was the writing. My God, the writing. I felt romanced by words. Laini was seranading me while I sat on my couch, sweats sticking to my skin as I flicked through page after page.

I felt like I was reading poetry, but way more exciting. Not that poetry can’t be exciting, but it has this gripping plot to go with it. Angst. Passion. Fear. Joy. Love. Daughter of Smoke and Bone had all of those and more. Between the incredible story (seriously, Laini is so creative) and the epic prose, I was hooked from cover to cover.

That’s something I strive for in my writing. Story is important, but there’s so much more. Good writing comes with practice, and I’ll be the first to admit I have way more to learn, but mimicking her writing style and the fluidity of her words is a huge goal of mine.

I maybe, kinda, sorta, just a wee-tiddly-bit idolize her.

I definitely recommend this series to people who need to work on sentence structure and overall beautification of words. Laini will expand your vocabulary and melt your heart with her inspiring use of language.

I’m gushing. I’ll stop now.

Sorry, people.

Seriously, read her books.

OK now I’m really done.

If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate links below.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
Daughter of Smoke & Bone Trilogy

Throne of Glass

Sarah J Maas is basically the benchmark of good fantasy, or at least that’s popular opinion. I will admit, I was swept up by the Throne of Glass series. I haven’t read all her other books yet, though I’m almost done with ACOTAR, but they are sitting on my shelf waiting for me! She’s definitely an author I always buy.

She may not have the beautiful prose of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but the story is fantastic. She has all the things, friends. All. The. Things. Good writing. Excellent story. Relatable, developed characters. Twists and turns. Maybe a wee bit of spice…

But what really got me about this story, and the reason she is on my list, is the way she planted seeds throughout this series that blossomed chapters, or sometimes books, later. We call this foreshadowing, kids, and by God Sarah is goooooood. I will give an example, and if you hate spoilers, go to the next paragraph. In the novella (set before the first book) The Assasain and the Healer, Celaena feels pulled towards Yrene, saves her booty, teaches her some awesome moves, and gives her money to go to school. In the last book, guess who saves ThE eNtIrE wOrLd?!?! Yrene. Why? Because she went to school to become a healer. Like… I can’t, people. Consider me shooketh.

End spoiler

Planting little seeds throughout your story, watering them as you go, then letting them bloom is the best way to give your readers what the kids these days are calling “shock and awe”.

There’s this idea that has long been talked about in the writing world. Anton Chekhov explains that if you mention a gun in one chapter, it has to go off at some point during your story. This is meant to keep your writing nice ‘n tidy: don’t mention pointless crap. But it also exhibits foreshadowing, the tool every writer should be using.

Thriller
Tommy mentions a gun in passing during chapter 3.
Tommy uses the gun when someone breaks in during chapter 10.

Mystery
Anna mentions a bloodstain on her husband’s shirt in chapter 2.
Turn’s out Anna’s hubby has been a naughty boy and is actually the murderer (chapter 29).

You get the idea.

Maas does an incredible job of planting these little seeds throughout her novel. I like to imagine her writing these books with a million flashcards on the ground around her, foreshadowing points on each one. Because if you think about it, she must have planned out every detail before she wrote it.

I digress.

I hope that I can be that detailed in my writing. I hope that when my readers reach the end of my book they get that ah-hah moment where all the little bits of information suddenly become clear.

Also this series was epic and a total game-changer for me.

End gush.

If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate links below.
Throne of Glass Throne of Glass Box Set Paperback
Throne of Glass Box Set Hardcover

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Last but not least, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. This book, fellow humans… This book broke me and remade me.

So I’m not going to lie, sometimes the story was a little slow for me. Hah! That kinda goes against what I just said, but it’s true. But it honestly didn’t matter because of the writing. It wasn’t just the use of beautiful language like Laini, it was the way V. E. Schwab evoked emotion with the simplest of phrases.

“Because time is cruel to all, and crueler still to artists. Because vision weakens, and voices wither, and talent fades…. Because happiness is brief, and history is lasting, and in the end… everyone wants to be remembered”
-V. E. Schwab

This book was so well thought out. The research alone makes my head hurt to even think about. But also the story line… Schwab had to make a timeline three centuries long. Three. Centuries. Long. In the real world, people. So research, history, facts, places, dates, ugh.

To be able to plan and research for a book like that is a huge source of inspiration for me, and one of the reasons I included it in this post.

The main reason, though, is the way Schwab writes like she knows exactly what strings to pull. She had me laughing and crying, screaming and closing the book just to absorb. The way she manipulates language into something tangible, something that washes over you so you can breathe in the character’s pain, their love, their misery, their joy.

And the way Schwab portrays mental illness… It’s perfect. Henry is depressed, that much is clear. The way Schwab dove into the inner workings of his mind and said things that I myself have said, had him behaving in ways I have behaved, wrote out thoughts that I’ve had and never shared with anyone…

“Take a drink every time you hear you’re not enough.
Not the right fit.
Not the right look.
Not the right focus.
Not the right drive.
Not the right time.
Not the right job.
Not the right path.
Not the right future.
Not the right present.
Not the right you.
Not you.
(Not me?)
There’s just something missing.
From us.
What could I have done?
Nothing. It’s just…
(Who you are.)
I didn’t think we were serious.
(You’re just too…
…sweet.
…soft.
…sensitive.)
I just don’t see us ending up together.
I met someone.
I’m sorry
It’s not you.
Swallow it down.
We’re not on the same page.
We’re not in the same place.
It’s not you.
We can’t help who we fall in love with.
(And who we don’t.)
You’re such a good friend.
You’re going to make the right girl happy.
You deserve better.
Let’s stay friends.
I don’t want to lose you.
It’s not you.
I’m sorry.”
-V. E. Schwab

It was so painful, but so healing at the same time. I have struggled with my mental health for over half my life. To see a character work through thoughts that I have personally had, and to seek a fulfilling life… to show him grow and learn, seek connection… Beautifully done. Truly.

On that note, if you’re struggling with feelings of hopelessness or overwhelm, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I want to hear your story. Also, the people at the Suicide Prevention Hotline are there to help you anytime. 800-273-8255 or chat.

If you want to evoke emotion in your readers and portray mental health in a beautiful, real, and respectful way, I highly recommend The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue.

If you’d like to get a copy, you can check out my affiliate link below.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

I hope this post helps you find some books that can enhance your writing. I would love to hear about books that have made a difference in your writing journey, or if you’re not a writer, books you thought were beautiful and worth mentioning. It’s always good to hear from a reader’s perspective, as sometimes writers get swept up in the mechanics and forget the fun.

I hope you’re taking care of yourself. You’re worth it ❤

Sending love,

MK