Category Archives: World-building

Home As Setting and Theme

When my debut novel, Sleeper Protocol, was released in 2016, many of my childhood friends, family, and even my teachers commented about my use of “home.” Where I call home is a long way from where I live now, but every time I’m there the feeling of peace is as palpable as wrapping a blanket around my shoulders. I was born and raised in upper east Tennessee in an area called the Tri-Cities. My family actually lived very near a small community known as Midway – it was Midway between Johnson City and Tennessee’s Oldest City, Jonesborough. The Appalachian mountains filled the eastern horizon, running in a roughly southwest to northeast line. It’s a beautiful place.

And I never intended for my story to go there.

As the story of a cloned soldier trying to find his identity unwound from my brain to the keyboard, I initially struggled with “What’s the point?” or even Eric Flint’s famous guidance of “Who gives a $^#@?” I needed something to make the character’s emotional struggle hit home and that’s where the inspiration hit. So, I took my character home. In the third act, he descends Cherokee Mountain, crosses the Nolichucky River, and ends up on a small knoll where a farmhouse once stood. All of those are real places and the knoll is where my family’s homestead still stands. My cousins own “The Farm” as we call it, and it’s wonderful to know that it’s still there and open for my family to visit any time we want. That openness and warmth led me to bringing my character to an very different emotional level. I gave him a sense of place, a sense of a home that he’d once had and was very different than the future one, but a place he could identify with fully and embrace his identity. Once I’d opened that door, I proceeded to move him further along the path by having him stand over his own gravesite in the Mountain Home National Cemetery.

The journey to find his “home” was really the key to unlocking his identity. My first ideas to bring him through familiar territory to help with my description and emotional resonance gave way to something else entirely: a theme I’d never intended. Our sense of home is a large part pf our identity. Even our home nation, or state, or municipality is much more than a common bond to our neighbors. We identify ourselves to that place forever. No matter where I go, when I am asked where I’m from I always say that I’m from Tennessee and just happen to live elsewhere.

My point is this – write about your home or wherever you consider your home to be. Pull that emotion and identity into your own writing. Your voice will improve, your characters will seem more grounded and real, and your readers – especially those who claim the same sense of home – will keep asking for more. When you’re not writing about your home? Put that same warmth and emotion into the characters who are there. It makes a difference to the story and to your characters.

When Settings, Like This Title, are Boring

Ho hum. Yawn. This story world is boring. YIKES! What does this mean? How do you fix it?

A boring setting means that the story world is dull and that the character’s interactions with it aren’t interesting. Who wants to read about a character’s morning routine (let’s call him Ted) – getting out of bed in the morning, making coffee and toast for breakfast seated at his table and munching and slurping as he reads the paper. (I am yawning, aren’t you? But stay with me, this story will pick up soon!)

Setting, or world building, involves not only the time period, genre expectations (science fiction, fantasy, historical, steampunk, to name a few), the milieu but also the ‘invisible’ things such as economics, politics, stability (war, peace, civil unrest, dystopia). From these are borne personal beliefs (may include religion) and values (for something, against something, or taking pains to be neutral). Mix these elements together to create opportunities for conflict which spurs characters into action.

Back to Ted. Let’s add an alarm clock and let’s make it a nagging hologram. Hologram – that’s futuristic. Ted has been partying the night before because today was his day off from his job as a strategist for the Space Army. Only the hologram won’t let him sleep and it’s nagging him to contact his commander – code confidential and urgent. Only, Ted isn’t thinking clearly yet so he tumbles out of bed, hits the dispenser for coffee and it’s not working yet again. He stumbles back into the bedroom, searches for his laser gun and notices a lump on the bed. He rips the sheet off and sees a woman obviously dead. A hologram of the commander appears to tell him to get his sorry self to a meeting. Secret Agent Alvaret is missing and along with her, key information that will compromise Space Army’s plans to stop the advance of the Slimy Worms and to save Space City.

Ted’s world now holds the promise of a futuristic science fiction world with an impending war and a murder to solve. We have the sense of the politics, the chain of command, and although the economics and daily lives of inhabitants are somewhat sketchy at this point, there is a lot of opportunity to create something interesting. The murder victim provides an opportunity to explore and to learn about the world through the investigation of her murder (Ted will have to figure this out because he’ll be blamed, and as he searches for clues, we’ll get to explore the world through his eyes).

Someone may argue that what I’ve just created is a premise not the setting. Boring Ted in a boring setting wouldn’t have an opportunity for a dead body to appear in his bed let alone have the fate of a space nation in his hands. He’d likely just have read about it in the paper and then gone to work. But that does not make a story.

However, if it’s boring Ted you still want, he needs to somehow be made a character readers will want to read about. He may be an ordinary man thrown into extraordinary circumstances. He’ll need quirks, issues to overcome, a reason to overcome them in a setting/world which won’t want him to overcome them. So although Ted may be your ordinary man, he’ll still have to function in extraordinary circumstances. Those circumstances are setting, with attention to detail even if it’s set in current times. Again, that means paying attention to details and taking nothing for granted about time and place. For some great examples on how to do this, read current mysteries set in modern times.

If the setting you’re creating feels boring, here are a few things to consider:

1) You don’t know the setting well enough yet.
Settings, like characters, can become cliché and trite. In Ted’s case, the author would need to know something about military strategy, about life on a space station/city, how the science operates, who the Slimy Worms are (background, aliens, humans) and why and how they pose a threat. In short, we need to know how the world works and what the character’s place is in it and how he sees it and himself. If these details haven’t been thought through, the setting won’t be rich enough to hold the reader or for the character to interact with.

2) You know the setting well and have thought through the details.
You know it but does the reader? Have you shown it as best as you can? Have you shown us the important details and not assumed that we can see what you can? Find ways to integrate the description into the story. For example, pinpoint tangible details using strong nouns and verbs along with dialogue and action. This will help strike the balance between showing and telling.

3) Too much telling and not enough showing.
Too much telling can be boring. Description after description after description! Is that information important? Sometimes it is. Telling can be in the form of exposition, narrative summary or static description. There is a place for it but it must be used sparingly: if there is information that a reader needs to know: actions or time need to be sped up; or showing would be too long and would slow the story down. But always, avoid adjectivitis! Too many adjectives, too many descriptors, can bore readers and slow the story. Always consider if the details are important. If not, cut them. If they are important, use strong nouns and verbs.

No matter how and when you describe setting, how you show it through dialogue, emotion, internal monologue, action or exposition, setting has only one purpose. That is to help move the story forward.

When editing your story, ask these questions:

1) Is the sentence showing or telling?

2) Note if you or your beta readers feel themselves skimming over information. Ask: Is it info dump? What purpose does this information have?

3) Is the sentence too long? Does it contain too much information? Is it important? What do I need to say to move the story forward? How much impact or punch does the sentence have?  This means accuracy, clarity and brevity. However, as Ken Rand notes in THE 10% SOLUTION, if accuracy and clarity (therefore more words) are needed to tell a story, then brevity must take a back seat.

Setting need not be boring. It is only if we don’t explain it well enough, or use it properly (either in info dumps or without clarity) in the context of the events in the story. Know your world well and explore it with your protagonist as you write. Use the editing process to determine if there is sufficient information about the setting and if your characters are serving not only the plot, but also to reveal the world to the reader.

Now, to do something about that boring title …

When Setting Sets the Scene for a Publisher’s Rejection


I Forgot Where I Am or Why



The Little Things

For our readers in the United States, everyone at The Fictorians wish you and yours a happy Independence Day on this 4th of July.

Many beginning authors consider worldbuilding as a need to flesh out an entire planet or a continent. They spend countless hours focusing on where to place all of the individual buildings in a city and then coming up with a “cool” name for each area. I went through this phase in the 1970’s and 80’s when I wrote over three hundred Dungeons and Dragons modules for my friends to enjoy every other weekend. I have books filled with individual floor plans for all of the buildings in the capital city of Bali, including the furnishings and who lives and/or works there.

When it comes to worldbuilding for fiction, I prefer to come up with an overall skeleton structure for a particular culture and then let it develop naturally. There’s no need to have a detailed floorplan of the butcher shop next to the tavern unless there’s a reason for the characters to go inside and buy a porkchop. There’s no use in working out the personnel structure of the guards, the gentry, or the street sweepers unless the characters will be interacting with them. By developing the broad strokes as the need arises, it keeps me focused on what is needed for the story at that moment. It also keeps me writing instead of planning nifty things that only I will get to see in dusty old journals that get buried over the years.

If you think about the worlds that you’ve read over the years, there are some that will always stick out in your memory. I’ve found that those worlds do have plenty of broad worldbuilding for the setting, but it’s the little things that really make those worlds come alive in your head. A common example is The Hobbit. We’re set up with a quick explanation of what a hobbit is and that they live in a house built into the side of a hill — and not a nasty, slimy hole filled with the ends of worms and an oozing smell. Tolkien goes on to explain that hobbits love comfort, food, and drink.

At this point we see Bilbo sitting outside smoking some pipe-weed. This is the kind of small detail that can transform a scene and make it rich and lively. He is enjoying his morning when Gandalf wanders by. Again, the small details about Gandalf’s background are sprinkled generously to immediately capture the attention of the reader, and it’s masterfully done. We want to know more about this wizard and the adventures he’s been on!

This is the classic setup for a novel, where the main character is shown enjoying his normal life in their normal world when something comes along and changes everything. This unbalance (usually) gets resolved over the story and the ending shows the protagonist getting used to their “new normal”.

That beginning spot where Bilbo is puffing away and getting a bit annoyed at Gandalf for butting into his quiet morning, only to be dressed down after Gandalf reads Bilbo the riot act “as if Gandalf was selling buttons at his door”, shows a lot of subtle worldbuilding. We learn a bit more about the culture of the hobbits and, at least at first, that this particular hobbit starts off with a cheerful outlook. When the idea of adventures pop up in conversation we discover that hobbits like being predictable, and that there are no adventurers around Hobbiton. The droplets of culture are helping to build out the world of the Shire without being obtrusive. Instead of handing the reader a laundry list of boring and sometimes unnecessary information, Tolkien slips us small doses that we can consume without getting bored.

When it’s time to show us the world you’re imagining, consider allowing us to sip from your fountain pen instead of chucking us into a barrel of inky details. The buildup will help us see your vision one image or cultural display at a time.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist and poet; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and


Really epic Epic Fantasy

lotr posterI love epic fantasy. It’s always been one of my favorite genres to read, and of course the very first book I tried to write was epic fantasy. Didn’t go so well, but I have an epic fantasy series I plan to release eventually, so I’ll get there.

What makes epic fantasy so, well, epic?

The best epic fantasy, whether they’re a Tolkien spin-off or some other giant, multi-volume series of tomes big enough to prop up the sagging foundation of a house, there are some common elements that make great epic fantasy work.

Think Tolkien. He was really the father of epic fantasy, and a big ingredient in his special sauce was the world he created. Many other successful fantasies leveraged that world and resonated with the work Tolkien did. World-building is a huge element to most epic fantasy, and few authors do it so well.

The Name of the WindOne who does is Patrick Rothfuss. In The Name of the Wind, he creates a vibrant world, full of magic and music and poetry that does an unrivaled job at transporting readers into another world. Fans want to explore the world with the hero, linger there, and wallow in the depth of the vibrant cultures he creates.

George R.R. Martin takes a different approach. His political intrigue and huge cast of characters who get killed off more than just about any other series, transports readers in a very different way. The intricate plot, warring families, and intense action has captured an entire generation of readers.

Usually when we think of epic fantasy, we think magic, and the king of awesome magic systems is Brandon Sanderson. Whether the dark, gritty world of Mistborn or the hugely epic Stormlight Archives, Brandon always delivers intricate magic systems and unexpected twists and turns that keep readers clamoring for more.

There are many other great examples of epic fantasy, but these are enough to get a sense of the challenge facing authors trying to break into the epic fantasy world. The stories really need to be epic, usually there’s a large cast of characters, the stakes are as high as they can get, and the magic can be in a powerful magic system, an intricate political world, or a setting so majestic people don’t want to leave.

So what are your favorite epic fantasies, and why?

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
Rune Warrior coverFrank Morin loves good stories in every form.  When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities.  For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers Urban Fantasy/Historical thrillers, check his website: