7 Tricks For More Relatable Characters

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Hi there! I hope you’re safe & well. The fall ick has been going around lately. Hopefully you’ve been taking care of yourself and staying healthy so you can enjoy this season!

I have had one common piece of feedback on my writing: readers have trouble connecting with my characters.

This is something I’ve been working to improve because, as we all know, the characters can make or break a story!

Would you rather read a good story with a bad MC, or a not-so-good story with a great MC?

For me, it’s all about the character.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an exciting plot. But if I can’t get into the character’s head from the start, I’m bored for the rest of the book.

The problem with this is that there’s often a small window of time where if I don’t connect with the character, I never will. I have to be drawn in within the first few chapters, otherwise the character is lost on me.

So today I thought I’d share some tricks I’ve learned about creating more relatable characters.

1: Give the character something to care about-QUICKLY!

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Giving your character something to love is such an important part of adding depth to a character.

This doesn’t always have to be a love interest!

In fact, I recommend you give them something to care about that is totally platonic, or even something private they don’t share with many people.

This can be a pet, a sweater their grandma knit them, a necklace from their dad, a rock they found as a child, anything!

Make it personal, give it a story!

This is part of developing your character’s backstory-creating little scenes from their past that you can incorporate into the story in one way or another.

This adds depth to your character and a level of relatability for your reader!

They can have moments like “Oh, my grandma knit me a scarf I still have!” or “I have a dried flower from that nature walk I took with my dad, I get why she kept that rock!”

It’s the little things that make a big impact on a reader.

Everyone has things they love. That’s just human nature.

Giving your character something to love makes them more believable, and if your reader can relate to it with a similar scenario, all the better!

If you can’t think of anything for your character, think of things you care about, or things people you know care about.

Sometimes taking some inspiration from real life can be even better than making it up, because it’s real.

It’s so much more believable because you believe it.

If you write with complete understanding about a topic, even if you don’t mention every single fact, that knowledge will shine through and give your reader a sense of surety.

2: Give the character unique traits.

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Every single person has their own set of unique traits and quirks-so it stands to reason that your characters will too!

More than believability, adding a quirk will give your reader a peek into your character’s inner world.

They will gain an understanding of what makes them tick, how they behave, why they are the way they are.

More than that, it will make your character stand out amongst their peers.

If you think about your friends or family, who stands out to you the most? What makes them unique? What’s your favorite thing about them?

Often it’s people’s quirks that make us love them the most.

I have this cousin. I know I’m not supposed to pick favorites, but he is definitely my favorite! He is covered in piercings and tattoos and is in a heavy metal band. But he’s also the kindest, gentlest soul I think I’ve ever met.

I love his unique qualities, they serve to make him stand out to me.

Give your character some quirks.

Make them scared of butterflies.

Make them love cinammon rolls so much they shed tears every single time.

Make them have a weird laugh.

Make them only wear purple.

Just make them unique!

Give them (believable) traits that make your reader say, “Oh this person’s interesting. Now I want to know more.”

3: Make their best trait be their biggest downfall.

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Sometimes our biggest and best qualities can also be out greatest weaknesses.

Bravery is great, especially in a butt-kicking MC… but what happens when their bravery becomes reckless self-sacrifice?

Pride can be a good thing, but what happens when it gives your character a big head?

Being a sweet cinnamon roll can be a lovely quality, but what does it feel like to be the person who never says no, who always has to be nice?

There are so many weaknesses you can give your character, but make sure they fit the personality!

Think about someone in your life. What is their best trait? Their worst?

Can you see how these two things relate to each other?

Don’t be afraid to look into some behavior psychology.

People are fascinating. Life experience, family of origin, and present circumstances can all influence personality.

Make sure that your character makes sense, but then dive deeper into why they are the way they are and how you can make them more interesting.

4: Give your character goals.

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Everyone has a goal.

Most people have several!

Someone might have life goals, but also little goals every year, month, or even day.

Make your character want something. Make them desperate for it.

Wanting something is so relatable for your readers. So if you give your character a goal, your reader will connect with that.

Giving your character smaller goals will also be relatable for your readers.

Even if their goal is just to find something to eat.

Who hasn’t been hungry before? Everyone can relate to that!

Another thing to keep in mind here is that every character should have goals, not just your MC.

Your MC’s Big Goal will often line up with the plot, but you have to keep in mind that not all supporting characters will have that same goal.

Maybe your MC wants to save the world, but one of your supporting characters is just in it for the recognition.

Maybe your MC wants to slay the dragon, but your love interest just wants to win the MC’s heart.

Take a good look at each character’s personality and ask yourself why they are on this path.

Your supporting character is the MC of their own story, so what is that story?

5: Give your character redeeming qualities.

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Redeeming qualities are vital to creating a relatable character.

Part of relatability is likeability. No, not every person on the planet is likeable, but you will have a tough time selling a book if all your characters chafe against the reader.

Your reader needs to be able to like your MC.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, “But MK, I’m writing a different story. I don’t want my MC to be nice.”

Did I say nice? Nope!

The reader just has to be capable of liking them.

Not every person on the planet is kind, not even all the people you care about in your life. But I guarantee you that if you care about them, they have some redeeming qualities.

Maybe they’re tough but they love hard.

Maybe they have explosive anger, but are also fiercely protective of their loved ones.

Whatever you pick, make sure there is something about your characters that your readers can actually like.

Unless, of course, you enjoy low book sales and being ripped to shreds on Goodreads.

6: Put relatable obstacles in their path

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If you’re plotting correctly, there will be several obstacles in your MC’s path.

But part of making them relatable is showing “relatable reactions” to unrelatable situations… and giving your character some normal obstacles!

Put yourself in your character’s shoes: how would you react if you were them?

Make sure that whatever reaction they are having, it lines up with their personality and is believable for your reader.

But more than that, give your characters some NORMAL obstacles!

Does your MC need to save the world, but all the odds are stacked against them? That’s not super relatable for your reader…

So maybe also add that they get nervous in crowds or they’re afraid of spiders. Something totally normal so your reader understands it.

Maybe your character wants to ask someone out, but they’re scared.

Maybe your character is fighting with their sibling.

Maybe your character just lost a family member.

Take something away. Give them a fear. Put something totally mundane in their way that still ends up being a pain in the butt.

All these obstacles are relatable to your real-world readers and can add a sense of depth and believability to your character and your story.

7: Show growth

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Growth is vital to your story.

Characters need to show internal struggle just as much as external.

If you’re looking for some examples to take note of, YA does this so well!

You always start out with a character who changes dramatically over the course of the story.

This should happen over time, in believable increments.

Growth takes time in the real world, it should take time in your story too!

Your character should struggle against it at first. Nobody likes change. But after some growing pains, they should be better for it.

It should happen over the course of the book, with greater growth over the course of a series if that’s where your story is headed.

Maybe you’re asking, “But what if my MC ends up worse off than they started?”

Yes… there are exceptions. Something to remember about writing rules is that they’re really more like guidelines.

If you are following a different story structure and you want to show some kind of regression, go for it! It’s your story.

Will you get sales? I don’t know… Ask me in 10 years. Or just do it and find out!

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I hope this guide was helpful for my fellow writers out there!

As always, feel free to leave comments below if you think of anything that might make characters more relatable.

Sending love,

MK

This is Linux and his cousin Evie. They are the best of friends. When he’s working on character believability, he likes to think about her. Not to help his writing, mostly because that’s all he really thinks about when she’s around.

How To Show Not Tell Like A Pro

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Hi there, I hope you’re having a great week! Have you been doing lots of cozy fall things? I love this season. The leaves. The crisp breeze. The cozy sweaters and evenings snuggled up in a blanket. Whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re taking care of you ❤

I thought I’d cover showing vs. telling when it comes to writing.

I touched on this briefly in my post on 5 Common Mistakes New Writers Make, but I think it could use some further explanation.

You hear it everywhere: Show, don’t tell!

But what does that really mean?

Basically, it’s a way of expanding your writing and immersing your reader in the story.

Evoking emotions in your reader and giving them the tools to dive into your story.

Sounds great, right?

But it can be tricky.

I mean, you can’t show all the time.

Your book would be way too long and overflowing with flowery sentences that would lose their luster pretty quickly.

It’s like bumper stickers. A few carry meaning. But having your entire car decked out in bumper stickers will probably just make people turn away, not even bother to read one.

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It’s all about balance. You have to show enough to immerse your reader, but not so much that they get tired of reading the long, drawn-out paragraphs.

This balance will be different for every writer, and for every story. Something I have found is that it’s always better to show more.

Show as much as you can, then trim things down in the edits.

Do you need to say “Her eyelids grew heavy, her shoulders slumping as sleep beckoned her further from reality” every time, or can you just say “she was exhausted.”

Great question!

The answer is: Only you can know that.

I know, I know.

“MK, that’s not what I wanted to hear.”

But that’s the reality!

Only you can know what’s right for your story.

So show everything! Show in every paragraph, every line. Show until your fingers ache from typing, then go back and trim the fat.

Maybe you’ll go back and realize you already said that she was tired, so it’s good that you’re showing its affect now.

Maybe you’ll go back and realize this scene is already pretty fluffy, so you can just say “she was exhausted” and call it a day.

In the end, you should probably have a 70:30 ratio of showing vs telling.

Show me the little things that make me feel this world.

Tell me the big stuff.

Show me your character’s reaction when she sees a child’s doll crushed into the dirt in a war-torn countryside.

Show me how it feels when your character’s anxiety kicks in, and for the love of God, do some research if you don’t know what it feels like.

Show me how butterflies took flight in your character’s stomach when he had his first kiss.

Show me how it felt for your character to stand across from their partner on their wedding day.

Tell me the sky was blue.

Tell me the character walked across the bar and took a seat next to a cute boy.

Tell me your character is hungry.

Tell me what I need to know.

Show me what I need to feel.

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If you were describing the scene above, what would you tell me, and what would you show me?

You might tell me how deep the water was, but show me how it felt to be immersed in it. You might tell me she smiled when he kissed her, but you might show me what it felt like to kiss a mouth that tasted like saltwater and laughter. You might tell me the sun beat down on them, but you might show me how it felt to have your head grow warm while your toes buried in the frigid sand below.

You’re telling a story. That involves facts that need to be stated.

But this is art, at the end of the day.

Make me feel something.

Now if you’re wondering: “How do I show my readers?”

I’ve got you covered.

All you need to do is focus on the 5 senses: eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell.

Let’s give it a try with your actual story.

Think of a scene from your WIP that could use some flowers and fluff.

Got it?

Great.

Now close your eyes.

You are the character.

Their personality is yours.

Their habits and mannerisms are yours.

Their experience is your own.

Become your character in this scene.

What are you seeing?

What are you hearing?

What are you tasting?

What are you touching?

What are you smelling?

If you were this character, what would be the first thing you say, the first thing you do?

What, in this scene, would be the most important to you? The least?

What would you pay attention to? What would you ignore?

One character might be more interested in the art on the walls, while another character might be more interested in the people.

A good way to connect with your character is to imagine them at a dinner party. The waiter spills water on them. How do they react?

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Everyone will react differently in this situation. Some would jump away. Some would get angry. Some would get embarrassed. Some would apologize to the waiter. Some would shout at them.

Knowing how your character would react in a situation like this adds believability, and helps to shift your perspective to know how they would react in other situations.

Your character is a sweet little cinnamon roll. No combat training. No muscles to speak of. Afraid of their own shadow.

If someone tries to punch them, they’re probably not going to block it. They might duck, but not in a super-cool matrix-ish way. More in a scream-and-cower way. Odds are, if someone tries to punch them, they’re going to get punched! They just don’t have the reflexes required to dodge or block an attack.

How they feel about it is another story. Cinnamon roll might be scared. Or they might be embarrassed.

When I get scared, my instant reaction is to get angry. Call it a defense mechanism. Call it a problem. Whatever. It’s just how I am. If someone tries to punch me, and especially if it hurts, I’m going to cover up any fear or embarrassment I feel with anger. It will be gut instinct. My very first visible reaction.

But if I’m writing a super tough character that doesn’t have this reaction, I have to set that aside while I’m writing the scene.

It’s a lot like acting, just for anti-social weirdos such as myself.

So get into character!

Imagine how your character would feel, react, act, and write it down!

Show your reader how to feel.

If you ever feel like a scene is missing something, go back and count how many senses you used. You need to use every single sense to give your reader a fully immersive experience.

The most common one is sight. Writers are always telling me what a character is seeing, but I have a pretty active imagination. I don’t need to know what they’re seeing, I need to know what they’re hearing. Smelling. Tasting. Feeling.

You don’t have to tell me your character walked into a bakery with purple walls and a case full of breads and black and white tiled floors and a cute baker boy in the back.

If you tell me your character walked into a bakery and the smell of baking bread filled their nose, cute baker boy in the back kneading dough, I’ll fill in the rest.

Your reader is smart. And sometimes, it’s best to hint at your world and let your reader use their imagination. This adds believability, and gives the reader a better experience.

I hope this was helpful to my fellow writers out there!

If you have any more tips on Showing vs. Telling, I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

As always, take care of yourself. It’s a tough world out there.

Sending love,

MK

This is my boi, assisting my mom as she tries to work. He’s telling her she needs to show more and tell less, all while making his signature derp face.

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.

5 Common Mistakes New Writers Make

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Hi there! I hope you’re doing well. Lots of changes have been happening in my life. All for the good, but transition is never easy. Self-care is so important during times like this. I hope you’re finding some time for yourself. ❤

I recently did a beta read for a fellow author. I came across a lot of mistakes I saw in my own writing at first, and I thought I’d bring some of the most common ones to light.

Writing is a journey, and no writing is ever perfect.

There will always be more to learn, and there will always be more to edit.

The key to my own editing has been to make sure that with every new draft, I’m making the story better, not just different.

If you keep going in circles on your draft and you feel like you just keep making small changes, it might be time to move on!

Send that baby off to a beta reader and dive into your next project.

But one thing I’ve found most helpful for my writing is research, research, research.

I’m on Pinterest, following fellow authors on social media, Googling, reading, you name it!

I love to learn more about how I can improve my writing, and there is a lot of info out there to help us authors do just that.

So I’ve compiled a list of some of 5 mistakes I’ve made, and seen in my reading, so that you can avoid making those same errors.

1: Telling, Not Showing

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Any writer who’s even done one Google search on writing has heard of this.

Show, don’t tell!

But what does that even mean?!

Well, it’s referring to the way you portray scenes in your writing.

When writing a scene, the reader should feel what’s going on as if they’re in the same room with the character.

So how do you do this?

There are many ways to immerse your reader, but the best way is to show the reader what is happening instead of just telling them.

Show using all 5 senses, instead of just stating what’s happening like you’re an announcer at a football game.

I know, sounds easier than it actually is.

But just remember all the senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.

Write them down and sticky note them to your computer if you need to!

Every few paragraphs, I like to do a check in.

Has my character smelled anything in these paragraphs, tasted anything?

Senses light sight and hearing are easier. But it’s important to remember that everywhere we go, out senses are seeking out new information.

You walk by someone on the street and smell their perfume.

You’re talking to your boss and taste acid rising in your mouth.

You’re sitting in a coffee shop and the seat is digging into your thighs and cutting off circulation.

Make sure you’ve touched on all 5 senses on every page! If you haven’t, there better be a darn good reason!

Let’s see some examples:

Telling: She was nervous.
Showing: Her palms started to sweat so she wiped them on her pants, her gut roiling like the sea caught in a storm.

See how the reader gets the same message (the character is nervous), but in one it’s flat and boring, in the other the reader feels what it’s like to experience those emotions?

Let’s do another one:

Telling: He was angry.
Showing: He ground his teeth together and curled his hands into fists at his sides.

Again, same message for the reader, but one is so much more vivid!

Let’s do one more, but a little different. This one isn’t a feeling, but a situation. You can sometimes tell the reader about a situation, but if all you do is tell, it’s going to be a pretty boring read.

Telling: She walked into the bar and sat down at the nearest stool.
Showing: The acrid scent of whiskey filled her nostrils as she pushed open the door. She spotted the nearest stool and made a beeline, stepping around the foamy puddle of what she prayed was beer on the floor next to an unconscious patron.

Here, we’re using the senses, but we’re also highlighting things she’s noticing on her way in.

Do you see how it paints a picture of the space, gives an overall feel, as opposed to the first sentence?

If you’re having trouble, try to picture yourself as the character. What do you smell? What’s on the floor? Who’s staring at you as you walk past? How does it make you feel when all eyes turn to you when you open the door?

Show me what’s happening, both in the character’s head, and in their world.

Re-read your paragraphs and see what your ratio of showing-to-telling is. If you’re telling a lot more than you’re showing, you might need to go back and spice it up!

2: Clunky Dialogue

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I think this one bugs me most of all.

There’s nothing worse than reading a good story, but getting annoyed every time the characters talk to each other.

Here’s the thing about dialogue: it shouldn’t sound exactly like real life.

There are times to draw out your dialogue, but it’s not as common as you’d think.

Unless it furthers the plot, you need to pair down your dialogue as much as possible.

Take out anything unnecessary. Take out filler words like um and so. Don’t make the characters talk if it would jam up a scene.

Let’s see an example:

Bad:
“Oh hey, Rebecca! I’m glad I ran into you,” John sang.
“Hey John! You said you wanted to tell me something?” Rebecca asked.
“Yeah, so I’m not sure if you knew, but I got a new job the other day,” John explained.
“Congratulations! That’s so great,” Rebecca chirped.
Better:
“I got a new job,” John sang.
“Congratulations!” Rebecca chirped.

Now, this is a bit of a strange example, but if you look at it, you can see that the same message is portrayed (John got a new job), but with so much less fluff.

And honestly, as a reader, if the entire book consisted of long, drawn out dialogue, you would at the very least have a hard time believing it.

At worst, you might put down the book.

We did a few things in the example above.

We got rid of unnecessary fluff like introductions and niceties. There is a time and place for this, but it’s rare to need it in every encounter in your book.

We also cut out the back and forth and got right too it. No questions. No fluff. Just stating exactly what they need to say.

Let’s do another example:

Bad:
John cocked his head and murmured, “I had fun the other night on our date.”
“Yeah, it was fun,” Rebecca laughed, looking down at her shoes.
“I was wondering if you’d like to go out again sometime,” John asked.
Rebecca looked at him then turned away, a blush staining her cheeks as she whispered, “Yeah I think that would be nice.”
Better:
John cocked his head and murmured, “I had fun on our date.”
Rebecca gave a breathy laugh, smiling down at her shoes.
“Maybe we can do it again?” John asked.
A blush stained her cheeks as she whispered, “I’d like that.”

See how much simpler the second example was?

Less fluff. Less unnecessary information.

We don’t need to know the date was the other night. We don’t need to hear things like “I was wondering” or “I think”. Obviously they’re thinking it… They’re saying it.

Also, see how I cut Rebecca’s first response out entirely?

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Not all dialogue needs to be verbal.

We got the same message from Rebecca when she spoke and when we gave an action. But this time? We were showing, not telling.

3: Too Many Dialogue Tags

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If you were noticing that the dialogue in the “good” examples above was still a bit clunky, you’re totally right!

Why?

Because we kept saying “Rebecca murmured” “John whispered…”

It’s too much.

Here’s the thing about creative dialogue tags: They’re distracting!

And totally unnecessary.

Writers have found that when using “said” as your main dialogue tag, your reader just brushes right over it.

When you add in a bunch of creative alternatives (exclaimed, mumbled, boasted, etc.) they can actually pull your reader out of the story. Make them remember they’re reading a book. This isn’t real.

And you never want to burst that bubble!

Another mistake with dialogue tags? Using them when they’re not even necessary!

Let’s re-work the previous examles:

Better:
“I got a new job,” John sang.
“Congratulations!” Rebecca chirped.
Best:
“I got a new job,” John said.
“Congratulations!”

We’ve exchanged some overly-enthusiastic dialogue tags for simplicity, and I think you can see how much easier this dialogue is on the eyes.

And do you see how we just omitted the last dialogue tag completely?

If it’s clear who’s talking, you don’t need to tell us over and over again John said… Rebecca said…

If you introduced who was talking well enough before the dialogue started, you might not even need to say “John said.”

You could say:

John waved at Rebecca as he approached.
He smiled when he reached her side. “I got a new job.”
“Congratulations!”

It’s clear who is saying what, and you didn’t need to use any dialogue tags to do it!

Let’s do the other one:

Better:
John cocked his head and murmured, “I had fun on our date.”
Rebecca gave a breathy laugh, smiling down at her shoes.
“Maybe we can do it again?” John asked.
A blush stained her cheeks as she whispered, “I’d like that.”
Best:
John cocked his head at Rebecca. “I had fun on our date.”
Rebecca gave a breathy laugh, smiling down at her shoes.
John took her hand in his. “Maybe we can do it again?”
A blush stained her cheeks, her voice barely more than a whisper. “I’d like that.”

See how I didn’t even use dialogue tags in this example?

I used what are called Action Beats. This is when you show us what the character is doing while they’re talking.

When you use action beats correctly, you really don’t need the tags.

Dialogue tags should only be used when it would be unclear who is talking without them.

4: Overusing Adverbs

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People… the adverbs… they gotta go.

For those who were not paying attention in 2nd grade grammar lessons (me haha), Adverbs are words that modify other words.

Basically.

Idk. I told you I wasn’t paying attention.

A lot of times, adverbs end in -ly.

Quickly.

Slowly.

Angrily.

These are all adverbs, and they add NOTHING to your writing.

I learned a rule once that if you can use one word to replace your adverb and verb, the adverb is unnecessary.

Examples:
Ran Quickly -> Sprinted
Walked Slowly -> Trudged
Grumbled Angrily -> Grumbled

See how with that last one, “angrily” wasn’t even necessary?

People don’t typically grumble happily. Your reader is smart, they’re going to assume, within the context, that your character is angry if they’re grumbling.

But that does bring me to a good point:

You can use an adverb if the sentence wouldn’t have the same meaning without it!

Examples:

Smiled Sadly
Laughed Manically
Ran Slowly

You get it.

These descriptions would not have made sense without those adverbs.

Could you have found a better way to convey that someone is smiling sadly? Yes. Yes you could have.

But we’re not talking about lazy writing right now.

5: Losing Sight of the Plot

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This is a big one for new writers. Especially Pantsers.

The beauty of an outline is that it gives you a direction to follow.

Even Pantsers can use an outline. At least a basic one.

I enjoy making a detailed outline, but I have found that I have a harder time writing with one. So I’m somewhere in the middle. Not quite a Pantser. Not quite an Outliner.

I’d call myself a Pantliner, but that would be weird.

The main thing you need to know here is that, however you write your story, you need to follow the path that suits your genre.

You need to know where you’re going, and have some ideas about what happens along the way.

Unfortunately, writing isn’t just putting words on the page.

Slapping a cool idea and some characters together, shaking it up, and pouring it into a Google Doc.

Stories are expected to follow a set path, which can differ between cultures and genres, so make sure you are looking up the story structure that fits your story, and where you plan to sell it.

There needs to be an inciting incident, a midpoint, and a climax.

There needs to be a conclusion.

But most importantly, you need to keep on track with where your story is headed.

Don’t wander off the trail when it’s not necessary. You’ll bore your reader!

Don’t add in scenes that do nothing to further the plot.

Every chapter, every scene, every paragraph, every sentence needs to further the plot.

If it doesn’t, then why is it in there?

I recently beta-read a story that was clearly going somewhere, but after I got about 1/4 of the way in, it was clear the author had not done their research on plotting or pacing.

I’m not trying to be mean here, I have the upmost respect for my fellow authors. This person completed a book, and that is a whole lot more than most people can say.

But I will tell you this:

If you do not follow the typical structure of a plot IN YOUR GENRE, your readers will put your book down.

I’m sorry, it’s just true.

Your book will likely not be the first one they have read. There will be expectations. Your reader will need certain things from you.

No matter how well-developed your characters are. No matter how cool the subject matter. No matter how interesting the world… If it doesn’t follow a plot, your readers will get bored.

Why?

Because a plot (story structure) tells you when to raise the stakes!

You need an Inciting Incident, because that is the point of no return for your character!

You need a midpoint, because we have to see growth!

You need a climax because that’s healthy for your… oh. Wrong kind of climax.

You get my point.

And for those of you feeling personally attacked, I will say this:

It can’t hurt to do the research, even if you think it doesn’t matter. But doing the research can certainly help your book get better!

And don’t you want to find out now that your plot needs work, instead of submitting to agents and getting weird, vague feedback?

Or worse… actually publishing your book, then wondering why it’s not selling?

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I hope this list was helpful to some authors out there!

Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have further questions.

And comment below with any mistakes you’ve seen out there that drive you crazy!

Sending love,

MK

This boi is thrilled to learn that he needs to rework the plot of his debut novel:
How To Lick Your Butt And Get Treats, A Memoir

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.

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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.

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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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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!

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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.

4 Tricks To Get Out Of A Reading Slump

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Hi there! I hope you have had a great week. Have you done something just for you this week?

I got into a reading slump recently.

It was rough.

I couldn’t get into anything I was reading.

I blame The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. It was heart-wrenching and I had a serious book hangover afterwards.

If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend it. But make sure to give yourself a little time to recover afterwards.

I was just jumping from book to book, barely giving myself a chance to breathe between one cover and the next.

Then, when this book happened to me (and boy, did it hit me hard), everything else lost its luster.

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So, how do you fix a reading slump?

Well, here are 4 easy steps…

1: STOP READING!

This may seem counterintuitive…

How do I get interested in reading again if I’m not reading?

Well, your brain is crying out for a break.

You’ve exhausted yourself. You’ve lost interest.

If you keep trying to consume more books, you’re just making it worse.

And, you might not be enjoying the books that you would otherwise love!

I stopped reading the Serpent & Dove series, and I think I might have enjoyed it if I hadn’t been in a slump.

So stop reading!

Just give your brain a break.

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2: Find something else that sparks creativity.

Paint. Go for a walk. Watch some movies. Take pictures.

Do something else in the creative world.

Yes, you can still get a great story from TV/movies.

Don’t be snooty.

Just do anything that gets your creative juices flowing.

I like watching movies, but there are so many options.

You just need to remember how it feels to be creative, but without reading books.

I paint sometimes. I’m not great at it, but that’s not really the point.

If your brain is tired of the same old thing, you’re stuck in a creative rut.

Have you tried cooking? Baking?

It can be really fun!

Just do something that makes you feel free and excited again.

Maybe you’ll get that spark back.

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3: Practice Self-Care.

Another reason you may not be into books recently might be because your mood has taken a dip and you didn’t realize it.

I’m guilty of this.

I get so hyperfocused on stories. I let them occupy my mind so wholly that I don’t realize I’m actually compensating for some deeper issues.

It’s nice when a book can help you cope.

Sometimes it pulls you out of this world and gives you a new one to think about for a while.

This can be good, but only for a while.

You have to confront your issues or they will eat away at you without you even realizing it.

This reading slump is your brain’s way of saying,

“Hey! Pay attention to me!”

Take a step back.

Ask yourself how you’re feeling, mentally and physically.

Are you covering up issues you’re struggling with by reading a bunch of books?

It’s ok to take a break and just feel your feelings.

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4: Read a different genre.

This really helped me get back into reading!

I decided to go for something light and easy.

I read Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan.

I’m not going to lie to you. This book was not some masterpiece.

But it was a really fun and easy read!

It was something light that could get me interested in reading again.

It was exactly what I needed.

A change of pace.

Keep in mind that changing genres might not work if you haven’t already done the other steps.

Your brain is giving you a sign. You need to listen, not just hop into another distraction.

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I hope these four tricks will help you get out of your reading slump!

Let me know what tricks have worked for you in the past. I would love to hear from some fellow readers.

And, most importantly, take care of yourself.

You are your top priority.

Sending love,

MK

Linux would like to remind you that there is no greater story than your own. Don’t forget to live a little. And also pet a pooch.

How To Write When It’s The Last Thing You Want To Do

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Hi there, how are you doing today? I hope you’re showing yourself some love. ❤

This post is mostly about writing, but feel free to take it and apply it to other aspects of your life. Painting. Working out. A new job. Putting yourself out there.

Do you ever struggle to start writing? You have things you want to say, but when you open up the document, you have no idea how to string the words together?

I feel this all the time.

Some might call it writer’s block. I’m not sure how severe it has to be in order to be classified that way… but there’s definitely a mental block, and it prevents me from writing.

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I used to look up little tricks.

“How to write.”

“Mistakes to avoid as a new writer.”

“How to overcome writer’s block.”

I would get lost in this trail of articles telling what to do and what not to do. What to avoid. What I have to do if I want to be a good writer…

But the thing is, I was researching this stuff for so long, I think I might have just been procrastinating.

I mean, how much research can you really do before you realize…

That information is only helpful if you’re writing.

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I’ve tried so many different things just to get myself to write.

But there’s really nothing that you can substitute for that feeling you get when you’re in the zone.

Your fingers are typing faster than your mind seems to be working, and the words just flow out. You watch it happen and can’t believe all of this is coming from you.

Where did this inspiration come from?

Well, let’s just say, if you’ve done it before, you can do it again.

But do you know what the difference is between when you felt those words flying onto the page, and now?

You were writing.

So how do you get there again?

Well… you just start.

Seems too easy to work.

“You can’t just switch it on…”

But you totally can!

It’s actually really rare that I feel like writing, and yet I write almost every day.

How do I do this? By forcing myself to start.

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I sit down in front of the keyboard. I put my phone away (I know, scary). I have an idea in my mind of a goal for that day.

500 words.

1 blog post.

A sentence.

Whatever I need to just sit down and get words on the page.

And I find that once I start, after a bit, the words just flow.

It’s a little rocky at first. I’ll probably have to go back and do some editing.

But it’s a whole lot easier to edit the writing you have done, than to put words on a blank page.

It’s not about being perfect, it’s just about doing it.

Think about it this way…

You’ve always said you need to work out more. So one day you finally just do it. Even at the idea of working out, you’re tired to the bone. But you put your tennis shoes on, you change into some cute workout gear. And you Just. Do. It.

I guess Nike had a point…

And once you start working out, it’s not that hard to do a few things and call it good. Maybe you lift some weights. Maybe you do some running. Maybe you’re more into squats. I don’t know, it’s your body. Whatever feels right.

But the point is, what was the hardest part: the work out, or getting the clothes on, going to the gym, and deciding to start?

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Starting, right?

Yeah, me too. That’s why when I say I force myself, I really mean it.

The toddler in my brain is kicking and screaming. So I tell her, “If you do this, you can have a special treat when you’re done. You like goldfish right? Yeah you do. So get in there, you got this!”

Er… you know… broccoli. Because I’m an adult ‘n stuff. I don’t eat goldfish… 👀

So, today, I challenge you.

I challenge you to sit down and start writing.

Or painting. Or working out. Or applying for new jobs. Or going on a date. Whatever.

I don’t care if it’s good. I don’t care if it never sees the light of day.

I don’t care if all you do is a paragraph. A couple sentences.

Because once you know you can start, it will be that much easier to do it again tomorrow.

So get to it.

Sending love,

MK

Linux can’t wait to see how far you can go!

Can I Call Myself A Writer?

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Hi there, I hope this post finds you safe and well. The world can be a scary place, but hopefully you have found something that brings you joy.

Joy, for me, is in being creative. Baking. Painting. Writing. I love to create, to use my hands and my mind to make something beautiful. I love to imagine worlds and explore them, to talk to my characters and get to know who they are, to find the beauty in the monotony. Writing can be stressful at times, but I love it. Even the challenges it brings.

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I used to call myself an “aspiring writer” or a “newbie writer”. Adjectives that make it clear that, while I do write, I’m new to this. I don’t have a lot of experience, especially from a professional standpoint. I am unpublished. I have no agent, despite valiant efforts. I have written one book that has yet to go past the eyes of my immediate family. I’m drafting a new one, and it’s a lot harder than I was expecting.

I have all these reasons to call myself an “amateur”. I worried that if I called myself a writer, I might be misleading people into thinking I actually know what I’m doing. Or worse, if I say I’m a writer, people will expect me to actually, you know, write.

According to the dictionary, a writer is someone who engages in writing, especially as a profession.

Is that what I do?

It’s certainly what I’d like to do. But as of this moment, I’ve never gotten any money from it. I can’t exactly be paid in warm, fuzzy feelings and my family’s praise.

Though I’m always open to receiving.

So I asked myself, why can’t I call myself a writer? If you google it, all these sites will pop up telling you when you can and when you can’t, people getting angry at newbies calling themselves writers, people getting angry at old pros who still haven’t adopted the title.

I suppose everyone’s just angry. That’s nothing new.

And why would I base my opinions off someone else anyway?

So I call myself a writer. Let me explain why I do this.

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First of all, if you write, you are a writer. I don’t care if you haven’t made a penny. If you put words on the page, and you’re heading in some direction with those words, you are a writer. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t gotten an agent yet. Or if you’re unpublished. Or if you’re self-published. Or if you’re published and have established a career. If you use language to create stories, you are a writer. So stop listening to everything Reddit tells you.

To be a writer, you must write. That’s it.

Second, I’ve found that these “qualifying” adjectives were a way for me to degrade myself.

Yes, I write, but I’m new to this. Yes, I wrote a book, but it’s unpublished. Yes, I’d like to write for money, but I’m not making any yet.

Amateur.

Newbie.

Hobbyist.

Aspiring.

Unpublished.

Wannabe.

Inexperienced.

Not yet worth the industry’s time.

These can get negative really quickly. And if you are painting yourself with these adjectives, you will probably start to believe them. You will feel insufficient. Worthless. See my post on Self-Doubt if this sounds like the inside of your head. It was mine for a long time, so I get it.

I ask you, is someone who paints, but has never sold a piece, a painter? Is someone who builds things, but doesn’t own a construction company, a builder? Is someone who tends plants, but doesn’t sell them, a gardener?

Do you have to be established, making money, and publicly accepted by the industry to be an artist?

When a child uses adjectives to downgrade their identity, their worth, what do you say? You tell them how great they are, right?

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When your child draws you a picture, but tells you it’s not very good, you tell them you love it! You say, “This is beautiful! You’re an artist! I’m so proud of you!”

So why do you treat yourself any different? Why are you, a wonderful, creative, worthwhile individual, not allowed to be proud of who you are and what you do?

I realized that the only person who actually took issue with me calling myself a writer, was me. I was afraid that people wouldn’t take me seriously. That people might think I had a big head.

But why would they think that?

I am a writer. I have written stories, and will continue to do so. Money, or not. Though money would be nice… My mortgage company doesn’t accept the aforementioned fuzzy feelings.

I’m so tired of making myself small for the comfort of others. I’m so tired of using degrading adjectives in case anyone took issue.

So, I’m a writer. A good one, in my opinion.

Isn’t that the only opinion that really matters? Your own?

Be kind to yourself, and call yourself whatever feels right to you.

And above all, keep creating. The world needs more good, and you are part of that.

Sending love,

MK

Linux calls himself a magician because he’s got that floofy magic.