Issue #151 View in browser
May 8, 2020

What's in this newsletter?

  • Recent Goings On
  • For the DenNerds: Witchlands Title Reveal!
  • For the Daydreamers: How I Write a Novel, Part 2
  • Upcoming Events

Recent Goings On

Baby is due any day now, and I am racing against her arrival to finish the next Witchlands book—which has a title now! Scroll down to see what it is. 😉

In other news, I have done no gaming lately (though I'm HYPED for the Bioshock Switch port coming in 3 weeks!), and any reading I've done has been entirely for baby. That nesting instinct is real, y'all!

Depending on when she comes, the next newsletter may...or may not be on time. Please be patient, friends! 💚

What I'm Playing

(yes, still)

What I'm Reading

What I'm Listening To

(on repeat)

For the DenNerds:
Witchlands Title Reveal!!

In case you missed my Instagram and Twitter reveals, the next Witchlands book HAS A TITLE!! Iseult's book is no longer simply "Iseult's book!"

Watch the video below to see what the title will be—and if you're curious about why the naming pattern has changed, read about it on my Instgram.

And of course, I'd be remiss not to link you to some preorder spots. 😉 

UK Bloodwitch Releases Next Week!

Only 6 days until the new UK paperback hits stores! I cannot wait to see what the mountain bat looks like in person. 😍

I love all of my covers, but there's something really EPIC about the UK paperback designs.

For my UK friends, buy links can be found here.

And for everyone else, Book Depository is the best bet for getting a copy.

For the Daydreamers:
How I Write a Novel, Part 2: Building New Worlds

And so we continue on in the "How I Write a Novel" series! If you missed the first installment, head here.

This week, I'm tackling a BIG TOPIC. One that I get asked about so very often, but that I've shied away from because...well, it's big. And even with the meaty introduction below, I am just barely scraping the surface.

Which is why I link you to some other authors and teachers who have done MUCH better jobs at teaching world building (and who also address cultural appropriation). Find those links at the end of this post!

    I also want to reiterate my two disclaimers from last week:

    1. There are as many ways to write a novel as there are people in the world, and there is no wrong way. The purpose of this newsletter series is to simply show you what I do.
    2. If you aren't feeling creative right now, that is 100% okay. Suddenly having free time doesn't mean we also suddenly have "free inspiration." You can always start your novel a year from now. Or ten years from now. There's no right or wrong time.

    Now, let's get started with this month's topic: world-building!

    The Logic and Logistics of Invented Worlds

    Logistics and logic? I’m a fiction writer, Sooz, not a technical writer!

    Look, I get it. As storytellers, we absolutely have a license to make stuff up. Loads of stuff. Weird, random stuff. But, as addressed in the first part of this series, we also need to do everything we can to establish the credibility of our made-up worlds (you know, with research).

    Fictional worlds have rules, and the author must obey those rules.

    Readers willingly suspend their disbelief when they open a book. They know what they’re reading isn’t real, but they’ve agreed to play along—and, of course, this is especially true in fantasy.

    Our goal is to keep readers immersed in our stories; we don’t want anything to take them out of the narrative. And the fastest way to do this is to break the rules you, the author, have established.

    Imagine someone is reading a gritty, hard-boiled thriller, when out of nowhere the detective suddenly takes off flying or has a temporary burst of ESP or spontaneously melts into a formless pile of goo. All of those might be fine plot points in the right kind of story, but in a realistic thriller, they don't adhere to the world's rules (or the genre conventions).

    Here's a small example that ALWAYS DRIVES ME UP A WALL: the female cop who chases down the bad guy in 3-inch heels. Does she look good doing it? Hell yeah. But is it physically possible? No. At least not for 99% of us.

    And that right there pulls me out of the story. That right there breaks the most basic rules of physics and anatomy. Suddenly I'm annoyed and no longer engrossed in the story. HER POOR ANKLES, OKAY?

    This is where logic and logistics come in.


    For me, logic is about making sure everything that happens in a story is consistent with the rules of the world I am creating. You might think of a story’s internal logic as its natural laws—its gravity, time, seasons, etc. If a character can read minds, how could another character lie to him? If a character can teleport, why would a normal jail cell hold her? It’s essential that we think through the logic of our invented world and keep it consistent.


    Logistics have to do with how we coordinate all of our characters, places, and things, and how they all fit together in time and space. That is, how does the world actually work? Where do people get their food? Their water? How long should it take an army to march from the coast to a mountaintop castle in the interior?

    One of the best ways to learn how to build your world with believable logistics is to study how other writers do it. As you read, take notes on how a story succeeds or falls short. What tricks or techniques does the author use to convince you a completely fabricated world is totally real?

    Another way to keep your logistics solid is to, as I discussed in the first installment of this series, research before you draft. Having knowledge prior to writing grounds you when you finally put pin to paper. Did I know everything about 1876 Philadlephia when I wrote Something Strange and Deadly? No! But I knew enough to keep from making major mistakes as my characters moved through the city and engaged with each other.

    I also love to take full advantage of my real-world experiences to establish the logistics of my invented lands. My time in Croatia inspired the Witchlands, and I merged aspects of the real and the fictional to add weight and consistency. (For example, the city of Dubrovnik managed to maintain independence in the face of three large empires. Sound familiar, Witchlanders?)

    Another example: at karate, I constantly make my very patient senseis walk through fight scenes so I can ensure the movements actually make sense. Do I throw in some flourishes? Sure! But the scenes are still logistically possible. (Why yes, you could break someone's humerus and then stab them in the neck with it.)

    And of course, as I said, I do continue building the world as I write, but it’s much easier to decide what the rules are early on and stick to them, than it is to go back and redo everything when the book is nearly finished. THAT DOESN'T MEAN YOU CAN'T. I change things all the time. But I have a lot less to change when I set up rules and do some research before I write.

    Maps & Culture

    So where do we begin with this whole "building new worlds" thing, Sooz? And what if I don't even know what to research yet because I'm starting from scratch?

    Well, my starting point is to draw a map. It doesn't matter what genre I'm writing in, I always start with a map.

    Why? Because maps give you a clear sense of where the people and landmarks are. Instead of just writing that a character walked from the east side of the island to the west, with a map I can see the mountain she had to climb, the lake she had to skirt, the bog she had to slomp through.

    But maps do more than simply track locations. Creating the geography of a place helps a writer develop the local people, history, and culture. Even if it's a map of a space ship! Every group of humans have culture—ranging from workplace culture to ethnic identity to national culture, etc.

    So yes, there's a lot to consider. (Especially cultural appropriation! See my note and links below!)

    At the broadest level, human culture is influenced by its surrounding geography. Coastlines, lakes, rivers, and mountains determine how people live, what they eat, and how they dress. Geography plays a formative role in how countries evolve, how cities grow, and who might want to fight with whom over what!

    I loosely based the geography of the Witchlands on Europe (with an inflated Adriatic region), and as you can see, my first map was nothing more than a rough sketch. I used it to both build my various climates and cultures and landscapes as well as make sure my travel logistics always lined up.

    Note: Be culturally sensitive when you create your world’s history, religion, and peoples. I repeat: BE CULTURALLY SENSITIVE.

    All too often writers who come from a dominant culture have taken it upon themselves to write narratives about other cultures, creeds, races, etc. We have done it for pure entertainment or we've done it thinking we were “helping.” This has resulted in so many harmful stereotypes perpetuated through fictoin.

    As such, do your best to assess why you are including the things you're including in your story. Are you playing into stereotypes? Are you borrowing from cultures or religions that are not your own? Are you writing about cultures, creeds, races, etc. that are not your own? If you answered "yes" to any of those questions, then you next need to ask if you are the best person to write this story, or if it is better left to people who do identify with that culture, creed, race, etc.

    Please, white people, I'm begging you to take this seriously. And if you have any confusion or concerns, then seek out people (and pay them for their time!) who can help you assess your overall premise, your world building, and your characters.

    And of course, research, research, research!

    For some great resources on writing the other and cultural appropriation, check out the links at the end of this newsletter.

    Now something to consider: at the broadest level, human culture is influenced by its surrounding geography. Coastlines, lakes, rivers, and mountains determine how people live, what they eat, and how they dress. Geography plays a formative role in how countries evolve, how cities grow, and who might want to fight with whom over what.

    As such, when you're building a new world, looking at the landscape (and climate) can really drive how you flesh out your world.

    I loosely based the geography of the Witchlands on Europe (with an inflated Adriatic region because, as mentioned, I was inspired by time in Croatia), and as you can see, my first map was nothing more than a rough sketch. I used it to both build my various climates and cultures and landscapes as well as make sure my travel logistics always lined up.

    On a smaller scale, while drafting Windwitch, I made a map of the Nubrevnan capital Lovats. Having this detailed map in front of me allowed me to keep character movements straight.

    More importantly, the map allowed me to assemble all the various historical and modern day tensions that fill the overcrowded. The culture in the Skulks isn't the same as Queen's Hill, but my character Vivia must navigate both.

    Magic and Technology

    As I've now said approximately 97,000 times, stories must adhere to their own rules and laws. Sure, you can do "whatever you want" with magic, but you still have to codify and stick to the code.

    In the Witchlands, I have elemental magic. In Something Strange & Deadly, I have necromancy. For both, I crafted detailed explanations of how the magic worked. In the Witchlands, power flows from the Origin Wells, which in turn comes from a great sleeping goddess beneath the continent. In Something Strange & Deadly, soul = electricity, and if you can control electricity, you can control souls.

    Again, did things change while I drafted the first books in each series? Absolutely. But it was easier to tweak my notes during revisions than to have to correct all the inconsistencies I would have otherwise drafted.

    Below is an example from a magic guide I made prior to drafting the Witchlands book. Did I remain this organized throughout the rest of the series? I WISH. But at least starting out with a crude guide helped me stick to my rules as I wrote.


    • This is one of the rarest witcheries and is deemed a Voidwitchery because of its connection to death. It allows one to control another person’s blood (or one’s own blood). It also allows the witch to smell other peoples’ blood and track that scent across hundreds of miles.
    • Most people think Bloodwitches are just a myth.
    • Bloodwitches, when they do appear, are usually hunted down and killed.
    • Aeduan is a Bloodwitch.


    • A part of Airwitchery, this magic allows the person to control the currents of air around him/her. It is highly valued for navies and shipping.
    • Many Windwitches hail from Nubrevna but most come from the rolling, endless plains in Arithuania (where tornadoes and other high winds are common).
    • Windwitchery is forbidden in Cartorra. It is regulated in Marstok and allowed in Dalmotti.
    • Merik Nihar is a Windwitch.

    As for technology, THE SAME STUFF APPLIES.  If you're writing scifi where the tech is so advanced it's basically magic, then you gotta make some rules and stick to them.

    And if you're using real world tech, well, duh. Follow real world rules! (Again, researcccchhhhhhh.)

    In Something Strange & Deadly, I used real world tech (with the help of my inventor husband) to design gadgets the Spirit-Hunters could use to take down necromantic zombies. Remember, if you control electricity, you control souls!

    But what technology do I even make up, Sooz? Or what magic?

    I'm so glad you asked. Look at real world human needs! For example, how do we answer the demand for long distance communication? We have phones and email. Back in the day, we had letters or telegraphs. So what can you make up that would fill that same need?

    Or how do we protect cities? How do we travel quickly? How do we purify water? All of these aspects of life that we take for granted are ripe opportunities for you to create magic or technology.

    I once received a very long (like 4 pages!) letter from a reader that was such a delight to read. In it, she wrote out a ton of different inventions for various witches to use in the Witchlands. Various flying machines Windwitches could employ, for example.

    And though she urged me to use her ideas, I of course could not—they were her intellectual property after all! That said, I hope she one day writes an elemental fantasy and uses all of her inventions. They were so clever, and she clearly has an inventor's mind.

    My point is that what I come up with to fill a human need won't be what you come up with, and that's part of what makes world building so fun and amazing!

    I'm going to wrap all of this up by saying: have FUN with world building, my friends. It is my most favorite part of the pre-writing process, when I get to let my imagination run free. As I brainstorm, I follow my creativity wherever it leads.

    But remember: good ideas almost always lead to better ideas, so follow those threads until they run out! Dig deeper and deeper, pushing past the first ideas that are often tropes or stereotypes.

    Also, as you expand your environment, you’ll find that it takes discipline to keep a fictional world’s internal logic and logistics consistent. Keep notes! Write lists! Generate a consistency document! You will 100% thank yourself later.

    Now, like before, here are some other posts to help you build and expand your worlds—and, as mentioned, to help you understand cultural appropriation and how to avoid it.

    Upcoming Events:

    I have nothing planned right now, but stay tuned!

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    Thank you for reading! Have a fabulous weekend, friends!

    Susan Dennard
    110 West 40th St.
    Suite 2201
    New York, NY 10018

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