world building

world building

Hi all, I’m excited to share with you a neat video on the concept of “world building” in fiction. Kate Messner wrote, narrated and animated this fascinating video:

In her video, Messner shares the top questions to consider in structuring a fictional world:

  • How did this world come to be? Write a short history.
  • What are the rules?
  • What are the punishments for breaking the rules?
  • What are the beliefs?
  • What are the values for this society?
  • What’s the weather like?
  • What do they eat?
  • Where are they living?
  • What is their relationship with animals and plants?
  • What technology exists?

Here’s a more comprehensive list of world-building questions for sci-fi writers especially, compiled by Patricia C. Wrede.

My own thoughts on world-building

world building

Image from “On Worldbuilding” by Ilona Andrews.

Having attempted to create world profiles before for the “Wedding 3000” story I wrote, and now for the Wren story I’m writing, I have a few observations.

(A) Many of these details are background information that should be used purposefully to advance plot and create a sense of the setting. Just because you come up with a fifty-page treatise on the weather and animal rights in your made-up universe doesn’t mean it should be presented that way in the story itself. Use the details piece by piece, teasing them out for the reader to gain a steadily growing understanding of this world and its rules. Don’t announce it all up-front. The discovery is more fun! Plus, only share the details that matter to the story.

(B) Certain questions are going to matter more for your world. In Wedding 3000, a futuristic satire on the increasing absurdity of weddings, the technology which existed matter a whole lot more than the weather. In the wren/bird story (I’ve really got to come up with a name for this working draft!), the weather and setting are vastly important, and technology not nearly as much. Beliefs and societal norms must be emphasized in this story in order for the reader to understand how significant it is when they’re broken by the protagonist.

(C) It’s okay to change. Some aspects of the Wedding 3000 world were unclear to me when I first began, but as I began to write, gaps revealed themselves. (“Oh! Well, I guess I have to think about their transportation tech now, since they’re going from one planet to another.” “What would vending machines be like in the future?” “Now that they’re sitting down to a meal, how futuristic should I make the food? It shouldn’t be so descriptive and wildly techie to distract readers away from the importance of the events they’re discussing…”) Give yourself room to continue fleshing out the world and its rules.

(D) When you’re done planning for the world-building, step away from the lists and maps you’ve drawn. Just close your eyes and think about what it’d be like to live daily life there. Walk around the streets. Feel the faint brush of the purple snowflakes on your face. Smell the burning fires all around from the hamlets’ siege. Run your hand over the cold railing of the abandoned spaceship and hear the echo of your footsteps in the giant metal dome under the stars. Follow your hero as he pulls up his mackinaw against the cold in the dimly lit alley, with the smell of refuse and rotting cabbage hanging on the bricks. Those kinds of descriptions will go a lot further than a detailed description of the voting protocol in the nation’s parliament.


TED Talks

I love watching TED talks. The opportunity to hear insights from experts in such a conversational, genuine way broadens my horizons and makes me think about other paths of life outside my own. The brief videos are like a jolt of energy for me, or like a delicious new dish of ideas I digest and later ruminate. I’m thrilled TED now has a TED-Ed section as well as writers’ workshops! Will share more if I find more neat videos like this one.


Stunt Writing Update – Observations on Entertainment Habits after Week 1

Hello loved ones!

The week is up, and results are in! My self-inflicted challenge as part of the online Stunt Writing course I’m taking was to observe my entertainment habits for one week. I took diligent notes on how I felt before selecting entertainment, what I selected, how I felt during and afterwards, and how much time I spent on entertainment. My hypothesis is that I could be spending more time on productive entertainment such as creative writing or spending time with friends, rather than mind-numbing entertainment such as watching tv shows that aren’t of much merit. I tried to be scientific in my field notes, but feelings are subjective and sometimes I had to recall information from a day or two before.


Total time spent on entertainment over the week of Feb 3 – Feb 9:      16.1 hours


susie entertainment chart







Conclusions and Side Notes:

I do feel that this week was potentially more of an outlier with the number for friends and family time in person, as there were a number of social engagements planned for the week. It was great! My fiance David and I were honored to be thrown a party for our upcoming wedding by my dear aunts and uncles in SC. The time spent there catching up with friends and family passed too quickly!

I also found it perplexing whether I should count exercise as entertainment or not. Still feels like a chore. After debating with myself, I decided that it was a choice for my free time, so I did include it.

So this tells me that I’m not as bad off as I thought with watching tv too much, but I could still cut that number in half and dedicate the time to creative writing/creative projects! Let’s hope that next week’s breakdown shows more of a redistribution!

As for the total hours of entertainment – 16.1 hours out of 112 waking hours doesn’t seem so bad. It also seems reasonable when I break it down by day (16.1 hours over 7 days = 2.28 hours per day), so maybe I’m in a more normative range than I thought!


An observation of my week’s entertainment habits has led to this overall conclusion: more intentional entertainment choices result in greater satisfaction, sense of rest and even heightened energy.  

This past week I catalogued my entertainment choices each day after work. Options ranged from trash tv shows that required zero brain activity, to reading gripping fiction, to watching documentaries that challenged me, to creative writing, to phone calls with friends, to shopping, to dinner or hanging out with friends and new people. After reviewing my daily notes, I noticed that “lazier” entertainment choices left me unsatisfied and wanting more, sort of like empty calories for the brain. I flopped onto the couch and proceeded to watch one tv show (“Last Man Standing”), then another (“New Girl”), then another (a movie – “Prince & Me”), and afterwards only felt a dull sense of boredom and fatigue, and I had trouble even remembering what I’d watched. Seems like a pretty clear indication my brain was turning to mush rather than being strengthened. But another night I resisted the urge for “lazy” entertainment and chose to write instead on the Wren story I shared with you in another blog post. After just an hour of creative writing and a phone call with a friend left me feeling joyful, productive and excited. Plus, I noticed that the more intentional entertainment left my mind surging with energy, new words and ideas, and a “full” feeling.

To be the person I want to be – a full time novelist and engaged family member and friend – I’ve got to be intentional with my entertainment. After all, life is short, and each day counts!

I was especially excited to realize something another classmate has shared – that when you truly lose track of time while writing, you know it’s good! I experienced that as well. When my fingers were flying over the keyboard as the pages filled up with adventure and dialogue, with the occasional reach for another sip of rapidly cooling coffee, it was only after an hour or so that I looked up to see the clock blinking another hour. Surprise, laughter, relaxation – these were the fruits of my labors. I am looking forward to sharing my writing with some friends and family as potential readers/editors!

Please weigh in if you have any ideas to share on being purposeful and intentional with your free time. What works for you? Do you ever feel guilty spending too much time on entertainment such as tv? Do you think you would be surprised one way or another if you took notes on your own entertainment habits?

Stunt Writing

EXPLOSIONS! Muscled, athletic people who look remarkably like celebrities leaping off buildings and gracefully rolling to their feet! CARS FLIPPING!

stunt man falling

stunt pyrotechnicsEnter the world of stunt writing. Basically all those things that make up stunts in movies, minus…er…most of it. And a lot safer, usually.



I’ve joined a MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – on the Canvas network called “Stunt Writing for Personal Growth.” The instructor, Erin Jourdan, has an M.F.A, resides in L.A. and teaches a writing class on memoirs (see her website here: In her Twitter profile, she describes herself as “Creativity junkie, writing therapist, creative coach, dream catcher.” So far, she’s challenged us with a very big goal.





Why does this seem so hard? So intimidating and impossible? 30 minutes is but a fraction of waking hours. Considering I’m usually up from 6:30am/7am until midnight, it’s only 2.7% of my day. (Somebody check my math – 30 minutes / 1110 minutes, yes?)

make it happen captain

For me, the fear comes from building structure around such a creative activity. I want to let the creative juices flow when they may, let them whisk me away into dreamworld suddenly and out of the blue. But, to be a professional writer, one cannot wait on the capricious winds of fancy, one must BUILD A FAN. One cannot simply float along, carried by the tides of imagination, one must BUILD A PADDLE BOAT AND PEDAL. (And if you’ve ever pedaled a paddle boat, you’ll recall just how much paddling you do for just how little payoff!)

So I’ve challenged myself to accept Erin Jourdan’s gauntlet. To make it happ’n, Cap’n.




Writing About…What?

So…erm…what’s the topic? You may be asking. Jourdan asks us to fill out a stunt writing plan with parameters (argh! real work! but you gotta have a plan in order to stick to it!).

Here’s mine:

  • I commit to writing for 30 minutes every day.
  • My stunt is focused around: ___evaluating how I entertain myself_____________
  • I will consider this aspect of my life from 3 different perspectives, one each week for 3 weeks.

WEEK ONE_____Observe how I entertain myself and make scientific notes in a journal (what time of day would I rather watch a movie vs. read a book? how often am I choosing entertainment over work in my free hours? when I’m with others, what are they doing to entertain themselves? how much of entertaining yourself is entertaining others?) I will observe what I feel before and after entertainment (what made me want to watch that movie? how do I feel afterwards? is it what I hoped? why’d I choose that book to read? what does it make me want to do afterwards? am I better for having had this experience?).

WEEK TWO____When I feel like being entertained passively, choose a different path. (example: Eh, I just feel like sitting on the couch and watching a summer blockbuster movie right now. Choice: No! Switch things up and read something challenging, go for a walk, watch a documentary instead, etc.)

WEEK THREE__Be more thoughtful and intentional in making entertainment a useful activity that makes me better, rather than just takes up time. Do I feel better? Have I been more productive


#1 Write a short paragraph about what your stunt is, this will be your “plan of attack.”

I have found that I spend a lot of time doing things that are entertaining (watching a movie, reading a book, etc.), then feel guilty afterwards for not having been more productive with my free time. I know that entertainment is an essential part of life, because your mind needs to relax to stay healthy and strong. However, I worry that I devote too much time to being entertained, and that my entertainment doesn’t make me a better person at times. At a recent conference, a speaker challenged us and said when you are choosing your entertainment, go for a documentary instead of a summer blockbuster, or read something new rather than a beach-read. This resonated with me. On a larger scale, I can make an educated guess to say that American culture today may be more built on entertainment than cultures of the past, when I think back to stories I’ve read of my ancestors’ Scottish roots in hard work and my grandmother’s tales of growing up on a farm. Can being hardworking and regularly entertained coexist peacefully? What’s a healthy appetite for entertainment? What’s the right balance for me? To pursue this, I’ll spend the next three weeks studying this aspect of my life. For the first week, I’ll make scientific notes on how I entertain myself, when, with whom, how many hours, etc. For the second, I’ll observe my feelings regarding the entertainment before and after. In the third week, I’ll try to be more purposeful in changing my entertainment habits and see what happens.


#2 Create Restrictions: Removal, Consequences, Places, People, Research, Data, Change and Practice


-Removal: In the second week, I will change my entertainment habits from what I feel. To do this, I will plan out my entertainment rather than act on a whim.

-Consequences: For every time I succumb to regular entertainment habits, I’ll tell you about it on my blog and do 50 pushups.

-Places: I will seek out other places for entertainment I wouldn’t normally go to.

-People: I will ask one person each week about their entertainment habits and whether they feel good about them.

-Things: I will review about a book or movie each week on my blog.

-Research: I will look into studies on entertainment.

-Data: I will keep a log of my entertainment habits.

-Change: I will change my entertainment habits in the second and third week.

-Practice: I will write down notes on my entertainment habits.

-Practice: I will write thoughts on my entertainment habits each day.

-Practice: I will dedicate my time to building more positive, healthful entertainment habits.


Discussion #1

Jourdan’s first discussion board post was interesting. Usually with these large courses the introductions consist of Give your name, country, and why you are interested in taking this course. Yawn…but Jourdan asked for us to share our earliest memory related to either shoes, a coat, a handbag or a meal. (A little female-centric, but that doesn’t bother me too much!) So I shared this off-the-cuff thought:

When I was young, I envied. Other kids in kindergarten had the coolest, the neatest, the greatest shoes. Why were these shoes the pinnacle of awesomeness? Because they would light up with each step. Chin in my hand, sitting on steps, I remember watching other kids at recess play basketball and speed around on tricycles, their light-up shoes glowing with each movement. One day, my mom brought me to the shoe store and had mercy on my plight. She bought me – and I will always indelibly remember – a pair of purple suede boots with exactly three light-up knobs on either side. These knobs lit up with precisely each step I took. I wore them out of the shoe store, stomping and hoe-downing, jumping and leaping, tap-dancing and hopping to test them out. For days I enjoyed them. But only just days. Because one day, they lit up on only every other step. Then another day, only every few steps. The lights flickered and faded, as did my excitement. I felt like I learned something about life from those shoes, but I’m not sure what.

By the way, if you want to also join her course – you don’t have to write 30 minutes a day, but you can look around in the course and learn something – it’s not too late to sign up!

Nothing Like a Man Who Reads

“Exercise more.”

“Eat healthier.”



Kudos to anyone who makes a New Year’s Resolution and wants to improve themselves. Even more kudos to anyone who keeps it!

I’m glad to share with you that my brilliant fiance, David, has made an awesome New Year’s Resolution to read TWO BOOKS A MONTH.

Man who reads books is sexyFor any working professional, that’s a significant goal! For some, the time it takes to read seems a luxury, a forbidden delight. For others, reading can be drudgery, because frankly you’d just rather sleep.

Either way, reading two books a month is a terrific goal for broadening your horizons, supporting authors (whoohoo!), improving yourself, entertaining yourself, and more. It’s not too late to give yourself a similar goal for 2014!




There’s just nothing like a man who reads. Others have applauded this special kind of gentleman, too – enjoy this blogger’s take, called “Date a Guy Who Reads.” 


January’s Reads

So far, David completed the month of January with flying colors, reading the following:

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies a man who never reads lives only oneAs you can see, David went above and beyond in January and started 2014 off right.

He’s already  in the throes of reading one of his picks for February, Malcolm Gladwell’s “David and Goliath” – fodder for lots of controversy and conversation there on the real underdogs and power players!




As for Me

I am enjoying David sharing with me about his reading conquests immensely, and it fires up both my writer’s spirit and my soon-to-be wifely spirit, as I explore with him these new worlds and ideas. It’s a lot of fun!

As for me, reading remains a treasured treat. I love it, but a new kind of guilt seeps in that says “you could be writing right now.” I feel the urgency to write, especially as life becomes inevitably busier. However, as Stephen King and so many others say, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

And he’s right. Each time I pick up a book, now I appreciate it as a reader as well as a writer. I look to see how the author gives each character a special voice, moves plot along, leverages dialogue wisely, etc. So I keep reading both for entertainment and for writing research. Plus, I also find that it calms me down a lot as a break when I get nerve-wracked over wedding planning!

Right now I’m enjoying a book I picked up at Edward McKay‘s from the bargain bin – “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon, which is a description-rich, historical romance that is pure fun! Hope to have a full review for you soon on this blog!




A Changeful Year

wedding illustration

It’s a crazy wonderful life. And I’m just going to have to accept the “crazy” in order to keep the “wonderful!”

I’m a few weeks out from getting married to the love of my life, David, on March 15, and so wedding planning is in full swing!

Despite the constant pressures of wedding planning, work, volunteering, exercise, and the impending move to a new place, I still feel the yearning to write like a gravitational pull. It just won’t wait for me to get a Major Life Event out of the way! And so, I continue to write amid this crazy, wonderful time.


Current Status

  • I’m enjoying submitting chapters of “Wedding 3000,” the futuristic, satirical novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo about over-the-top weddings to my writers’ critique group each month.
  • I’m starting a new novel for middle-school age children styled after Brian Jacques’ Redwall series (how I loved those growing up!), only featuring tribes of anthropomorphic birds in America (you’ve just got to read them :)). I’m hoping to develop these books into a series. I woke up this morning after stewing over the idea for about three weeks now, and I just said I’M GOING TO DO THIS. Now, 3,000 words later and still half a cup of coffee to go, I’m committed!


The Best Laid Plans

That’s it for now – it seems that no matter what plans I make now, they could all go up in smoke given the change that is to come with moving, changing my last name, becoming a wife and more. Who knows what is to come? Only the Lord! So I’m trusting in Him.

If I were to plan…which I seem to do all the time regardless of he reality of them coming to fruition or not…I’d hope that I can work on this “bird” novel steadily to get to perhaps 70,000 words by the end of May. Then to edit for June/July…and begin to send to publishers in August. Isn’t that a nice hopeful thought? 🙂 I’d love to do NaNoWriMo again in November…what a spectacularly wonderful and productive experience that was!

As for blogging, I’ll continue to do it when I can – this will be a better year for more regularly blogging, I’m sure!! 😉 But don’t expect any from me in mid March…

But the primary goal is to settle into married life and see what that means to be a godly wife and support to David. I’m looking forward to this change and challenge!



If you wouldn’t mind, please say a prayer for me and David during this changeful time as we prepare to have a home together and life together. Marriage is a significant change and a lifelong commitment! We’ll both have to learn to balance our time together with habits formed during our independence and with our dreams.

Please also pray for my sweet grandmother who is recovering from a major surgery. She has inspired me to write, encouraged me throughout all of my life, and has given me a role model for what it means to travel, be curious, be caring, and truly live your life to the fullest no matter what age you are. In fact, I’m named after her – she’s the original Susie.

Secondly, if you know of anyone who might be interested in editing/reviewing the second book I’m working on, that would be great! I’m looking for either a coauthor or an editor who loves children’s fiction. Thanks!


With love,