5 Reasons To Draw Your Story World Map

I love drawing maps. In fact, I got into map-drawing before I ever started writing stories. I remember sitting in my room as a kid, taping together sheets of paper to form fantasy lands big enough to cover my floor. My love for squiggly coastlines and pizza-slice mountains translated nicely into world-creating for my fantasy stories.

 

Map
Map of Akor, the fantasy continent for my Wattpad novel, The Broken City of Crows. (Drawn by hand, then colored and detailed with Photoshop.)

 

 

I’m a firm advocate of having a complete map for your fantasy setting, and even if your map-drawing skills aren’t exactly Ptolomeic, I think creating your own map is a valuable resource for fantasy writers. Here are some reasons why:

#1 Map-drawing forces you to develop a complete story world

To fill your map, you’ll need landmarks, cities, political boundaries, etc., and it’s way easier to keep track of all that information if you’ve got a map on the desk beside you. Gone are the days of having to make up awkward city names on the spur of the moment. Even if your story takes place in a reduced area, having that complete map gives your book that behind-the-scenes development it needs.

#2 Map-drawing gives you ideas for in-story locations

If you draw your map before or during an early draft, odds are you’ll get inspired for a cool setting for that scene you’ve been trying to nail down. Penciling in a lake in that one trout-shaped valley? That might be a fun setting for a battle…well, “fun”. You know what I mean.

#3 Map-drawing provides a reference for important information

Wait, how long should it take my protagonist to get from this river to that town? Oh, I’ll check my map measurements! Could an army actually make it through that forest? Check the map. Where does the city import its goods from? The port-towns? Good! How far away are they? Check the map.

You’ll be surprised how often you reference your map for questions you never thought you’d have to answer. Laying it all out on paper helps you avoid inconsistencies or fallacies of time and distance as you write.

#4 Map-drawing results in a valuable resource for readers

Most readers appreciate having a visual reference to help keep track of your story’s locations, especially in the fantasy genre. Once you get your map drawn out, you can share it on social media, on your website, or even in the very pages of your book, if you think it’s good enough.

I don’t know about you, but anytime I find a map at the start of a fantasy novel, I take a few minutes to study it so I remember where the major points of interest are as I read.

#5 Map-drawing is just plain fun

Drawing maps is, at least to me, another extension of the creative engine all writers have. It’s an artistic expression that complements and develops our story ideas, and sometimes it just feels good to take a break from writing and scratch out some of those squiggly coastlines and pizza-slice mountains.


Do you enjoy drawing maps as much as I do? Tell me about it! If you’ve never made a map, I highly recommend giving it a shot. In the meantime, have a great day!

5 Takeaways From My First Week On Wattpad

Eight days ago I created my first Wattpad account. Seven days ago I posted the first chapter of The Broken City of Crows. Now, a week later, I’ve taken a look back at the first taste of what will hopefully become a long and enjoyable experience (I suspect it will!).

wattpad cover II.png

Obviously, these won’t be experience-based tips, advice, or anything like that. I’m still a newbie. These are mere observations or highlights of my first few steps. Maybe they’ll be enough to convince you to join and share a story!

I’ve felt a lot less pressure

As an indie author looking to build a career on self-publishing novels, I often feel pressured to ‘perform’ well in fear of not succeeding economically. I’ve found that, on Wattpad, that pressure is non-existent. Yes, I want my story to be as good as it can be, but not having to worry about sales makes the experience of sharing a novel one chapter at a time way more relaxing and fun.

The feedback is great

A few blog followers and Twitter friends warned me that they received, occasionally, feedback that was either spam or harshly critical. While I’m sure someone like that is bound to show up, my experience so far with other Wattpad users has been nothing but positive. I’ve received general enthusiasm comments as well as constructive criticism. Both keep me going, and the fact that I can go back and make changes based on that feedback (if necessary) is such a big help.

I’ve gotten more reads than I expected

When I posted the first chapter of The Broken City of Crows, I didn’t set any goals or expectations. I was curious to see if anyone would read it, just for fun. Now, seven days and three more chapters later, The Broken City of Crows has received well over 300 reads. I know that’s not a huge number, and I’m sure a lot of writers would have easily topped that in their first week, but for little old me, that’s not half bad. In fact, I’m pretty excited!

Compared to the slow trickle of sales my other books get on Amazon, seeing so many people read (and enjoy) my work makes me a very happy writer. Again, there’s no pressure to reach certain numbers or amounts, a fact I’m quickly learning to value.

An established schedule keeps me productive

I upload new chapters each Tuesday and Friday, and knowing that readers will be waiting for that chapter to go up is a healthy motivation to stay on top of things. The chapters in The Broken City of Crows are on the long side (3000-4000 words), so editing them before posting takes some time, but I love the feeling of consistent productivity.

Working without a detailed outline broadens my horizons

You all know how much I love outlines. But for this project, I’ve decided to not rely on them so much. When I posted the first chapter, I had about 30K words written and a fairly solid plotline in mind. I’m not worried about hitting a dead end anytime soon. However, knowing that sooner or later I’ll have to start writing new chapters with fewer guidelines than I’m used to is a welcome challenge. Writers gotta grow and try new things, right?


If you’re looking for a way to share your work, interact with readers, and motivate yourself to keep writing, I think Wattpad is a fantastic place to do that. Once again, this has only been my first week. I have no doubt I’ll hit roadblocks, encounter nasty people, and get discouraged.

But for now, things are looking pretty great.  You should give it a try! In the meantime, have a great day.

The Ideal 10 Star Rating System + Big Announcement!

At the end of this post I’ll be sharing an exciting announcement with you all, so be sure to get in on it!


I’ve always been pretty vocal about my dissatisfaction with Amazon’s five-star rating system for books, the main reason being that five stars seriously limits the flexibility I’m able to have while expressing my opinions. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and construct a template for a ten-star rating system.

Currently, Amazon suggests the following criteria:

1 Star = I hate it

2 Stars = I don’t like it

3 Stars = It’s okay

4 Stars = I like it

5 Stars = I love it

Yuck. So…basic. So pessimistic. It sounds more like one of those convenience YA protagonists monologuing about her crush than a respectable review system. Does anyone even follow those criteria? I don’t.

Allow me to propose the following ten-star reviewing method:

1 Star = I read two chapters, burst a blood vessel, and fed the book to my pet turtle Franklin II.

2 Stars = I read three chapters, got a headache, and shook my head disapprovingly in Franklin II’s general direction.

3 Stars = I finished the book, but frankly, Franklin II is more interesting. And he’s a turtle. He doesn’t do anything. And his food smells weird.

4 Stars = The book’s okay for some light entertainment if I’ve got nothing better to do. Unfortunately, Franklin II and I had a game of marbles scheduled for today, so I won’t be reading much. Franklin II is bad at marbles. This could take some time.

5 Stars = I don’t regret spending a few bucks on the ebook. I enjoyed the general story, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about it. I might recommend it to Franklin II, since, being a turtle, his literature standards are fairly low, but he’s more of a mystery novel chap.

6 Stars = It’ll probably find a spot on my shelf, assuming the cover looks nice. Franklin II is irrelevant now. He can’t even see the shelf.

7 Stars = I quite enjoyed the book. I tried to have a meaningful discussion about the character development with Franklin II, but he was chomping on a lettuce leaf quite rudely, so I got mad and left.

8 Stars = Hmm, impressive. This book really stands out, possibly enough to earn a spot near the top of the shelf, where over time it’ll acquire a Franklin II-esque aroma. Gross. Franklin II stinks.

9 Stars = I read this book out loud to Franklin II after I’d finished it. We both teared up at the end. I’ve never seen Franklin II get so emotional. It was a beautiful bonding experience.

10 Stars = This book is extraordinary. Franklin II and I built a shrine for it, and on the second Tuesday of each month, we spend ten minutes in contemplative awe in front of it. Sometimes we even split a potato chip.

I hope the King of Amazon sees this post and takes the necessary steps to make my method official. In the meantime, Franklin II escaped his tank again. Gotta go find him.


Okay, now for the big announcement!

After a week or so of careful consideration, consultation, and calibration, I’ve decided to start a Wattpad account and serialize one of my backburner novels. Whaaat? Yes. I know. I think the earth just shifted on its axis. Here’s a fancy shiny thing for you to look at and be amazed:

wattpad cover copy

A band of escaped slave children face a world that wants them back in chains…or dead. Their struggle for survival begins in the uncharted wilderness and ends in a city ready to tear itself apart.

Placeholder cover art by yours truly. 

So why take this project to Wattpad? Several reasons. I’ve been puttering away at the manuscript for the better part of five years now, never really prioritizing it, so I figure this will be a good way to stick with it and finish it. It’s also the only novel I’ve written that doesn’t follow a developed outline, so a weekly chapter system fits perfectly. Third, The Broken City of Crows is longer and more ‘traditional’ fantasy than what I usually write. Why not try something different for it? Lastly, I really like the idea of getting feedback from readers as we progress through the story.

The first two chapters of The Broken City of Crows are already posted on Wattpad. Go read them here and tell me what you think! Any shares, tweets, or promotional smoke signals are greatly appreciated as well.

From here on out I’ll be posting single chapters every Friday or Saturday (depending on which works better for potential readers). And yes, I’m still writing Where the Woods Grow in Flames, don’t worry!

Anyways, I’m really excited to try this out. I don’t have super high expectations, but I’m curious to see how far we can go! Any support from you guys means the world to me, so let’s get going. Come along, Franklin II. We’ll be late!


Have a great day, friends!

How To Be A Fantasy Character 101

Today we’ll be studying the basics of what it takes to be a full-fledged fantasy fiction character. Note-taking is encouraged.

Step 1: Wear the appropriate attire

In this class, we provide you with a starter kit which includes pre-muddied boots and a cloak carefully hand-torn by our specialists. We also recommend you complete your outfit with your own choice of shirts, pants, and hoods. Our wardrobe selections include Colors Of the Forest, A Hunter’s Garb, and Dusty Road Wanderer.

Step 2: Grow out your hair

Most of our past graduates adapt to the standard shoulder-length hair, which we recommend for its versatility. It’s long enough to catch the breeze while you sit majestically on your wilderness rock of choice, and it’s short enough to whip around just right in situations where dancing, spinning around in surprise, or hand-to-hand combat are required.

Step 3: Make sure you have adequate eye color

You’ll have to purchase your own contact lenses, but our prices are economical so you won’t have to use the last non-specified-currency coins from the pouch on your belt. As with our clothes department, our contact lens counter features an array of color choices. These include, but aren’t limited to, Emerald Green, Pools-of-Water Blue, Rich Mahogany Brown, and As-Black-as-Ebony Black. Each base color also comes with palette variations ranging from Deep to Sparkling.

Step 4: Invest in some recommended accessories

Now that you’ve completed your basic outfit and your rugged-yet-charming and/or graceful-yet-fierce appearances, we can move on to completing your look with some accessories. Should you plan on spending time adventuring outdoors, please consider our selection of flasks, weightless cooking supplies, hand-carved staffs, and lethal daggers. If you prefer to stay in town, however, you may be interested in our stealth-friendly tool belts, lock picks, just-quiet-enough grappling hooks, and lethal daggers. Not into adventuring? No problem! In the next aisle, you’ll find our embroidered handkerchiefs, leather-bound books, this-belonged-to-my-mother necklaces, and lethal daggers.

Step 5: Formulate a dietary plan

Now you look the part! Let’s get to work on your lifestyle changes. I see you’ve brought water and vegetables, but don’t worry, we won’t be needing those. There’s a Local Healer booth set up in the back; talk to any of our soothing female staff members and she’ll set you up with a new nutrition plan based on bread, cheese, mysterious chunky tavern-stew, and plenty of ale and mead. With our dietary plan, dehydration is a thing of the past!

Step 6: Learn the necessary survival skills

We know you want to start questing as soon as possible, so we’ve condensed our survival skill syllabus into a two-day crash course where you’ll learn to wield a sword, shoot a bow, ride a horse, and set rabbit traps from our team of bearded experts. However, if you present us with your certified Chosen One and/or Hero of Destiny I.D., you can take a brief placement test and skip the course altogether.

Step 7: Purchase an animal companion

Of course, all our students want horses, and we’re glad to provide you with a fine spirited stallion, or, alternatively, a stubborn-yet-loveable mare that’s too old to travel fast but fits your budget just right. However, please remember that most horse names have already been registered, and our last graduating student had to settle for Thunder_Stripes20387. We advise you consider our other available companion animals before making a hasty horse decision. We offer battle tigers and tamed wolves for our real gutsy adventurers, or, should you prefer the more cute-and-comical variant, we have injured birds of prey and a randomized forest rodent. Now, what color would you like your horse?

Step 8: Select a surviving family member

Unfortunately, our program doesn’t allow students to graduate so long as all their relatives are alive and well, so we’ll have to ask you to choose up to a maximum of three extended family members to move ahead with. For the sake of convenience, we recommend limiting yourself to siblings, wise and loving grandmothers, and/or shady aunts and uncles. When you’ve made your selection, please sign the Emotional Consequences Waiver form, which you collected at the start of the class.

Step 9: Reserve a room at the tavern/inn of your convenience

When you pass this class you’ll be enrolled in our extended learning abroad program, so make sure you choose a tavern that matches your preferences. This is the second form we gave you, the one on the faded parchment nailed to the door. Slots fill up quickly, so make sure you get your name on there right away so you don’t miss out on the isolated table in the corner, the one with the dim candle. You can still brood and ignore the noisy patrons from other tables, but it’s just not as fulfilling! We want you to have the most mysterious experience possible.

Step 10: Wait for your first quest

To complete the learning abroad program and receive your traditional written-in-the-ancient-language diploma, you’ll need to complete a quest. You’ll find a list of available quests towards the end of your syllabus, but you’ll need to wait for us to send our certified suspicious stranger to your designated location before embarking on the quest. If you head out on your own beforehand, the chances of encountering your assigned quest companions will be slim, and you will likely fail the final exam: our carefully curated sequence of incrementally-dangerous challenges which you cannot complete without courage, friendship, and at least one potential love interest.


We hope you’ve found our class instructional and inspiring. We look forward to seeing each of our students fulfill their destiny.

10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Elodie Tuck

I’ve decided to start a new blog post series in which I share fun or significant facts about the characters from Where the Woods Grow Wild, facts which aren’t mentioned or developed much in the book. These facts won’t be spoilers, so no worries there! It’s mostly just for you to get to know the characters ‘behind the scenes’ a bit more. And why not start with my favorite character from the book, the mayor’s Speediest Courier?

(For more info about the story and the characters, this in-blog page is the place to go.)

So, without further ado, here are ten facts you probably didn’t know about Elodie Tuck:

#1 Her parents are alive

Both of Elodie’s parents are presumably alive, though their whereabouts are unknown and irrelevant, as they abandoned Elodie on the doorsteps of a bakery in Aldenturf when she was only a few months old.

#2 She was raised by Mayor Clarenbald

Horatio Clarenbald unofficially adopted Elodie at the persistent request of his wife Marigold several years before he was appointed mayor of Bardun Village. They were visiting Horatio’s brother in Aldenturf (a certain baker), and Marigold threatened to put salt lumps in Horatio’s tea for the rest of his life if he didn’t agree to care for baby Elodie. Marigold became ill and passed away a few years later, and she made Clarenbald promise to continue providing for Elodie for as long as she needed it.

#3 She created the position of town courier for herself

Before she turned sixteen, Bardun Village had never needed an official courier. After her sixteenth birthday, it still didn’t, but Mayor Clarenbald insisted Elodie was well old enough to work for her room and board, and she refused to join his maid-infested staff, so she appointed herself as the Mayor’s courier, and that suited Clarenbald just fine.

#4 She once broke her arm in the apple orchard

She was eight years old the first time she tried to climb one of the trees in the apple orchard, and it didn’t end well. It was then that Horatio Clarenbald decided she ought to learn to read and write. Those first few lessons didn’t end well, either.

#5 She refers to Clarenbald as ‘Mayor Clarenbald’ on his request

While Clarenbald was willing to raise Elodie for as long as was necessary, he and Marigold never had children of their own, and he didn’t feel capable of developing a fatherly bond with Elodie, so he kept their relationship as formal as possible and taught her to always call him by his title.

#6 She tried to teach herself to swim by throwing herself into Clarenbald’s pond

It didn’t work very well. Clarenbald had to throw one of the current maids after her. Subsequently, Clarenbald let the pond dry out and replaced it with a flower garden. Elodie learned to swim in the creek north of town the next year.

#7 Martin Colter was her first real friend

The Colter family came to Bardun Village when Elodie was nine years old. She tried to befriend Martin right away, but it took him a full year to work up the courage to say a word to her, so for a long while she gave up entirely.

#8 Her birthday is on October 14th

When Mayor Clarenbald told her she ought to pick an official birthday (purely for legislative purposes, of course), she chose October the 14th because that was the very next day and she couldn’t wait to celebrate for the first time. In future years she wished she had chosen a warm summer date, but Clarenbald insisted it was too late to change her mind.

#9 She once saved Percy Durbity’s life

Though to be fair, it was her fault he rolled off the table to begin with. She was looking after a one-year-old Percy while the Durbity parents had a garden lunch with Mayor Clarenbald. Percy wouldn’t stop crying, so she put him on the kitchen table while she ran to find a sock or something for him to play with. Long story short, Percy rolled off and Elodie caught him in the nick of time. She never told him about the incident when he grew up because she didn’t want to be pestered with admiration for the rest of her life.

#10 She often dances in her room at night

Because she can, and she doesn’t need any other reason. She kept her shoes on the first time, but a coincidentally-awake, candle-wielding Clarenbald calmly informed her that dancing was for nymphs and nymphs weren’t real, therefore dancing shouldn’t be real either. Elodie decided she wanted to be a nymph, and so she danced with bare feet from then on.


I hope those were interesting facts! I’m definitely going to do more of these in the near future (maybe making it a weekly series?). Drop a comment below to suggest which character I should explore next! Or, if you have any more questions about Elodie, feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer those that I can.

Don’t forget to subscribe and follow me on Twitter to receive your complimentary fuzzy duckling. And as always, have a great day!

 

7 Truths Writers (Probably) Won’t Admit Out Loud

Highlight the ones that apply to you and go confess your sins afterward.

#1 We stalk our readers on Goodreads to see what their progress updates say

But only because we value and crave feedback. Not because we’re paranoid. Why would we be paranoid?

#2 We don’t write as much as we pretend to

Raise your hand if you’ve tweeted #amwriting when you’ve done nothing of the sort. Good, now put it down and get to work.

#3 We do care about the money

Despite a hundred wise (and obnoxious) sayings to the contrary, most of us want to earn money through our writing, and it’s frustrating when sales are constantly flatlined. Not that I’m trying to be a Scrooge, but “I write because that’s who I am” doesn’t pay many expenses.

#4 We have at least one genre we hold a grudge against, though we’d never say so out loud

For me, it’s paranormal romance (sorry?). For you, it might be fantasy, and I forgive you.

#5 Knowing someone’s reading our book scares the sock monkeys out of us

Because a fraction of our soul is about to be either approved or rejected and if that doesn’t make you break a sweat, I don’t know what will.

#6 We easily get jealous of right-place-right-time authors who pop out of nowhere and make big bucks without visible effort

Is jealousy a fault? Yes. Is it natural? Also yes. But while we applaud the writers who find success through hard work, every now and then it genuinely feels like some people get it all handed to them and then some. (Oh, and is it a coincidence that those out-of-nowhere bestsellers tend to be the mediocre ones? Maybe. I’m trying not to be too salty here.)

#7 We joke about procrastination when it’s actually a legitimate problem

Every time I scroll down my Twitter feed I spot a few tweets making some snarky remark about procrastination. And yes, I do it too. But still…if we did something to solve the issue instead of seeking mutual giggles on social media, perhaps we’d have less to tweet about and more to publish? Oops.


Disclaimer: I wrote the list based on personal experience, so take it with a grain of salt. Got anything to confess or add? Drop a comment below. Subscribe and follow me on Twitter to receive your complimentary bunny in a teacup.

And as always, have a great day!

The 5 Big Mistakes I Made When Self-Publishing My First Book

A lot of people think Where the Woods Grow Wild was my debut novel. It’s actually not, but I’m totally okay treating it as such because my very first self-published novel was a bit (fine, a lot) of a fiasco in its inception. Some of you have read it: Little One, published just about two years ago and republished (with a lot of improvements) a few months later.

I’ve written about this in past posts and random tweets, but I decided to share the five biggest mistakes I made when first self-publishing Little One. Most of them were due to an utter lack of experience, so if you’re building towards your first release, maybe I can save you some trouble.

#1 Not asking for beta readers

News flash: beta readers are amazing. They should be an integral part of your self-pub journey. They’re the first eyes to see your work, and the feedback they provide is ESSENTIAL. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get by without that feedback. I probably don’t have to explain why. Suffice to say that your view of what works and what doesn’t will ALWAYS be limited by your investment in your own manuscript. Solution: ask for beta readers. I didn’t when I self-published Little One, and my story suffered because of it.

(Note: my beta readers for Where the Woods Grow Wild were the best, and I’m still super grateful! I feel like that story is wildly [pun intended] more successful because of them.) 

#2 Relying on self-proofreading

Freelance editors across the globe are already pulling their hair out. So did I when I realized just how many typos I had missed. To be fair, I was a broke senior in college. I couldn’t afford a vanilla coke, much less a professional proofreader. Still, my mistake was thinking that one or two quick proofreads would be enough. No…no. Can you successfully proofread your own work? Possibly, if you give yourself enough time. Do I recommend it? Definitely not. It’s not worth the anxiety of finding another spelling error or wrong word choice post-publication when people have already purchased the book.

#3 Settling for an okay cover

Some of you may remember the original cover for Little One. It was okay, as far as very basic designs go. But it really fell flat when inserted into the hyper-competitive world of Amazon thumbnails. I feel bad saying this because I’d hired an artist friend for that design. She did everything I asked her to (and did it well!), so the mistake was mine for not realizing how much the cover art mattered. Later on, I acquired a new design from a professional (and experienced, importantly) cover artist, but I’ll never be able to make up for that sub-par first impression. Mea culpa. 

#4 Not investing in a physical proof copy

If you’re publishing a print edition through a program like CreateSpace, do yourself a favor and BUY THE PROOF COPY. The shipping expenses are worth it in the long run. When I first self-published, I thought the digital review option was enough. Plot twist: it wasn’t. Not even close. When my first print copies arrived, there were chapter titles on the wrong page, awkward paragraph splits, and other glaring print errors. Some of those copies were for friends, and I had some pretty embarrassing explaining to do. Printer’s fault? Nope. Mine, for not wanting to sacrifice $25 and a few days to revise the physical proof copy.

#5 Rushing everything

I tweeted about this yesterday. Don’t rush. Don’t ever rush. Please, for your own sake, DO THINGS SLOWLY.

I think this point includes (and is the cause of) all the other mistakes I made as well. When I first self-published Little One, I was in a huge hurry. For several reasons. One legit reason was that I needed the project completed for college credit (English major perks). I needed those credits to graduate, so I had a tight deadline. The other reason, however, was a truckload of impatience on my part. I wanted the world to get my first novel, and I wanted them to get it assoonashumanlypossiblerightnowplease. I cut corners. I skipped essential steps. And the result was a mediocre product. Please, don’t make that mistake. Take the time to do things right, even if it means pushing back your intended deadlines. I want your first self-publishing experience to be one you can remember with pride.


I hope this post is of some help for those of you intending on self-publishing (or even if you’ve already got some books under your belt). Now I can look back on the experience and view it as a growth opportunity. My new books are worlds better because of what I learned from those mistakes.

At the same time, I still cringe now and then.


Thanks for stopping by today. I always like interaction, so add to the conversation in the comments or just say hi! Make sure to follow me here and on Twitter to receive your complimentary baby penguin.

In the meantime, have a great day!