Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Writer's Report and Book Review

World-building the next novel

The germ of my next novel has been in my head for well over a year, but forcing it into some kind of shape has been surprisingly hard. I have some ideas for a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, we can fall back on the ways that grief, loss, and trauma have messed with my head. Focus has never been my strong suit, and it's worse now. 

I think that the issues with creating a new world go beyond that, though. I've been writing books in the Pismawallops PTA series for about 7 years, with some ventures back into the world of the Ninja Librarian. In other words, I haven't had to create a story-world from scratch in a very long time. In fact, the last time I did so was the goofy fantasy world of Halitor the Hero--published in 2014 (and I think drafted in 2013 or earlier--probably right after Return to Skunk Corners and while I was working on Death By Trombone). 

All of which is to say: the last time I created a new world, I was a different writer, and a lot more haphazard about such things. In the meantime, I've transitioned from a pantser to a plotter, at least when it comes to mysteries. So while I launched naively into the writing of Death By Ice Cream with little beyond an idea about a body in the PTA's ice cream freezer and trusted the island community to come to life as I went, I can't be so cavalier now.

For a while I didn't know if I could do it at all, but I'm happy to say that the new book is starting to come together in my mind, and I think I'll be able to start writing it perhaps as early as next month.

That brings me to....


Title: Preparing to Write Settings That Feel Like Characters
Author: J Lenni Dorner
Publication Info: Published March 2015.
Source: Purchased from Amazon

Publisher’s Blurb (Goodreads):
This reference guide is a tool to help you organize your thoughts and ideas to obtain the goal of making a setting that feels like a character. This valuable reference guide is useful in revealing a simplified way to create settings that feel like characters by using an organized sketch sheet. This practical approach will help focus your writing. The challenge of making a setting into a character is easily conquered with this informative guide. Make your story more interesting in today's competitive fiction market by giving your writing this edge.

The Setting Character Sketch (to copy and use with the book) is on the blog of J Lenni Dorner.

My Review:
Just when I was struggling with what I needed to know about the village where my new sleuth, Seffi Wardwell, lives, I remembered this little book. I started it in March right after I bought it, but set it aside because at that point I was absorbed in revisions on Death By Donut. It occurred to me that it might help me out, so I finished reading it, and returned to the outline tool at the beginning.

I'm not saying that this is a miracle cure, because I still have to think about what's in the village and how it all fits together, not to mention designing a murder, a motive, and a whole slew of red herrings. At the least, however, reading the book gave me a set of things to think about regarding the village and peoples' homes, businesses, etc.

Since posing questions about the story and answering them (sometimes over and over in different ways) is pretty much how I get to an outline, this new set of things to think about is a good fit for me. I hope that I can also keep J Lenni Dorner's tips and ideas in mind as I write, to help Seffi's world come to life.

Dorner gives suggestions and illustrations about the small things in a variety of settings, from the big-picture political world to the details of a single room, that can help it to communicate more about the characters and story that inhabit it.

My Recommendation:
The ideas and suggestions in this book, while often simple, can definitely help if you are a writer and want to bring your settings to life in new ways. It's a quick read and you can pull out of it whatever will help you. I did notice that the illustrations often pulled from stereotypes, and while that makes it easier to see how this can work, you might want to think hard about using stereotypes to communicate too much about people and places.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased a copy of Preparing to Write Settings that Feel Like Characters, and received nothing from the author or the publisher in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”   

 ©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2021
 As always, please ask permission to use any photos or text. Link-backs appreciated.

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  1. Well, I agree with you on all counts. I’m in much the same situation, with one series/world finished, and another waiting for the final book to be edited. I did think of using a different aspect of that same universe for another series, but I’m not sure I can raise any interesting plots right now. Maybe I should just take a break.

  2. Ps. And maybe using J’s book to analyse my new world as a character will help inspire a plot?

    1. It might. Seems like you might get something interesting in the fantasy/SF line by starting with a world and its issues. The characters to fix it might come along!

  3. Hi Rebecca - getting ideas to solve a problem, may not be the exact answer - but sets the brain's wheels in motion to help one through. I admire you and Jemima for setting out to create worlds for books - all the best for the rest of it - Hilary


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