Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Use Deeper World-building to Create Novellas and Spin-off Stories -Plus Leah Cypess NIGHTSPELL & Novella Giveaway

I started this post thinking I was going to write about digital novellas that can be released between full novels as a way of keeping readers engaged. I had a reason for this. I am considering doing this for my trilogy, and I know a lot of authors who have done it successfully. Leah Cypess, one of my fellow writers at the Enchanted Inkpot, has a novella set in her popular NIGHTSPELL world that released last month. (She's been generous enough to give away a signed print out copy of it as part of this post, along with a copy of the full NIGHTSPELL novel. Read on and enter at the bottom!)

It's All About the World-building

Thinking about Leah's short piece and trying to figure out what made it successful, what makes any novella or short possible, I came to one conclusion: it's all about the world-building. That's something that Leah does brilliantly. It was what engaged me and made me love her first novel, MISTWOOD, and she followed that up with equal authority in NIGHTSPELL.

We tend to think of world-building as something that's exclusively for fantasy writers like Leah, but my world, for example, is set in reality with a few magical twists. Like Leah though, I have enough world-building to ensure I have no shortage of material to work with. I could easily come up with ten novellas.

It's Not Just for Fantasies

The reason is simple. World-building develops character, setting, and plot. No matter what you're writing, you will benefit from added world-building by creating a richer canvas and framework. Even a straight up contemporary romance usually contains friends and family who have a sociological history and hierarchy, a shared shorthand of communication based on their experiences together. They sound alike or different from each other based on where and how they grew up, and they live in a fixed geographical location, whether that's real or made up. Wherever they live, the place has a geography, a history, an economy. It has food and customs and animals who live there, along with other people. It has a government, and rules. It is its own little world, and the more you know about that world and the people in it, the easier it will be to convince your reader that the place, and your characters, are real, and the more stories you will find taking place and intersecting with your main story.

Use World-Building to Develop Related Stories

Realizing that every story benefits from detailed world-building, and that we can use world-building to help us mine for related, additional material, I decided to try to come up with a brainstorming checklist that would help spur that kind of thinking. I don't have a whole lot of time to test-drive it right now, so you'll have to let me know how it works for whatever kind of story you want to apply it to. I hope it will not only work, but also help.

Are you ready? Here goes.

As you are writing your main story or looking for additional material, consider::

  1. History: Begin with a history of the location where your main characters grew up and include a history for the location where the story takes place. Consider how different a town founded fifty years ago as a commune of hippies would be different from a town founded before the revolutionary war. How does the history shape who is important or influential in the town and who is on "the wrong side of the tracks"? Who gets away with murder and who is watched by every clerk and shop owner whenever she goes into a store to buy a pack of gum? 
  2. Economy: Is your location generally better off or worse off economically than other places in the story? Do your characters live in a mansion or an apartment? What kinds of problems and experiences are quintessential to that experience? What type of neighbors do they have? What sounds do they hear in their neighborhood? What kind of technology or material goods can they afford?  What can't they afford, and what would they do to get it? 
  3. Sociology: How has the history and economy shaped the development of the town/location and the relationships between the characters you want to write about? What common experiences have they had together? What jealousies, rivalries, and friendships have arisen from this history and economy? How does this effect the family of your characters? Their chances for employment? Their hopes and aspirations? Who have they stepped on or stepped over before your main story begins? Who's nose is out of joint? What music, food, movies, books do your characters have in common and why? And how can you use that to build a community of friends your readers will want to stay with? What other characters have you developed who might have stories your readers want to hear?
  4. Linguistics: What language or local variant of a language do your characters speak? How much does the language vary between characters and how does that reflect socio-economic status? What words have become shorthand for experiences shared by your characters and how can you use them to create a stronger sense of community? What words should never be spoken, why, and what are the consequences?
  5. Geography: What kind of terrain, geology, distances, and weather exist in your world and how do these help or hinder your characters? What sorts of plants and animals exist there and how do your characters interact with them? What other elements of setting can you derive from the place and how can you bring that setting to life? Where do your characters go to hide? To be alone? To do illicit things? And what can happen to them while they are there?
  6. Technology: This can be magic or science or anything in between, but whatever you bring in, it must help or hinder the characters in some way. Consider how you can make it backfire. What happens when the technology or magic fails? What would be the worst possible moment for it to fail? What are the consequences and limitations for using it? What will your characters be willing to give up, or forced to give up, to have it at their disposal.

World-building isn't in our books for the sake of creating something for the sake of setting your book apart. It's an integral part of the story and one that can build entirely new stories while we brainstorm.

Think of good world-building like baking a soufflĂ© rather than baking a cake. In a cake, the layers are separate. In a great soufflĂ©, everything blends together, and when it all works, it rises to become something much larger than the original components. 

World-building is a process. We start with history, and then adjust the economy, the sociology, and so on. As we adjust those, we have new ideas about the historical background. Before we know it, we have a world so complete, it's easy to make the reader share our vision, and even easier for us to spin off entirely new characters and plotlines.

Give Us Your Thoughts

I'd love to hear from you. What do you think? Have I left anything out? How do you brainstorm the world of your stories, and how much world-building do you do?


Want to see great world-building and storytelling at work? Fill out the form below and enter to win a copy of Leah Cypess' Nightspell and a signed print out of Buried Above Ground, her Nightspell Novela.

by Leah Cypess

Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was all.

In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger—not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours.

Darri’s sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister... if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom—not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else.

In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?

by Leah Cypess

A short stand-alone digital novella set in the world of Leah Cypess's Nightspell, where ghosts exist alongside humans and nearly every lavish ball is part murder mystery.

In the kingdom of Ghostland, every murdered soul comes back as a ghost, and every ghost has only one desire—vengeance. Emilie had everything she'd ever wanted—beautiful dresses, a perfectly decorated room, a party every night, and the eye of a nobleman. But then she's killed. And now she'll stop at nothing to find out who did it. No one in the palace of Ghostland is above suspicion—not even the people closest to her. This haunting fantasy novella is filled with supernatural thrills and surprising plot twists.

HarperTeen Impulse is a digital imprint focused on young adult short stories and 


  1. Great post! World building is essential!! I mean, you don't think Harry Potter would have been as successful without it, do you? Yes, a must have!

  2. I love the idea of using world building to spawn more story ideas. I've been at a loss as to how to write some short stories set in my universe, and I think you've given me the key.

  3. Nightspell looks very intriguing. I'm usually not a fan of paranormal, but I've been trying to read different genres lately and this certainly caught my attention!

  4. I would love to read this book. It sounds really good. Thanks for the giveaway.

  5. I have read Nightspell and can't wait to read the new novella!

  6. Excellent overview, Martina... you nailed it ALL! Well done!

    I totally get into all aspects of world building in my novels... It's a must.. I do TONS of research before and during my writing. It's so important to add richness and REALITY to our work...

    I really enjoyed your post! Thanks...

    And congrats to LEAH... all the best! Her books look amazing!

  7. Great stuff, as usual. Always useful and helpful. Thanks.

  8. I completely agree how necessary world-building is. Sometimes it's hard to bring out all the details, but something that helps me (being a visual person) is building Pinterest boards. Scrolling through my boards of images for a story always seems to get the creative juices flowing and helps me wiggle my way into the world of the story.
    Thanks for the giveaway! I love stories with ghosts. ^.^

  9. I totally agree with your points. As a long-time lover of fantasy and a new convert to sci-fi, world-building can really make or break a book. Authors have to convince readers that the world they're making up exists somewhere and world-building, especially the six aspects of it you mentioned, are crucial to that. I want to be able to imagine living in the world an author has created. If I can't do that, I have trouble believing and loving the book! Great post!

  10. I Love novellas. Sarah J Maas's Assasin novellas really brought the world to light and made reading the first book even better. I really like how novellas are becoming more popular. I love the addition of world building and being able to read about characters that weren't in the spot light in the main books. :)
    Great insights!

  11. Thanks for all you awesome posts. I learn something new every time I hop over here. And I ALWAYS have a new book to add to my TBR list!

  12. Nice things to consider

  13. Awesome post! I am a firm believer in deep world-building.

  14. I've been getting more and more interested in the fantasy genre since last year. I haven't read Mistwood and Nightspell, yet. They seem really interesting.


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