Perseverance: One Writer’s Journey


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I’d like to introduce a client of mine, Alison Mather, who’s recently signed with a prestigious literary agency in the UK. She’s had an interesting journey (to say the least) and has agreed to share it with you. I think you’ll find it inspiring:

Perseverance. It’s a word most commonly used when telling a person’s story of triumph, after they’ve triumphed – which is all well and good and serves as a reminder that your goal can be achieved, but is utterly horrible when you’re actually trying to do it: being perseverant. At least it is to me. I find it very much akin to what I imagine being lost in the wilderness to be like (without the constant threat of sudden death). What direction should I take? How do I know if this step is the right one? What if I’m just going around in circles? Why are the signposts so damned hard to find?

Okay, so that’s where the analogy ends because most people know that the best thing to do if you are physically lost is to stay still and that is absolutely, positively the worst thing you could do if you ever want to be a published author.

During my own journey as a writer I have asked all of these questions every step of the way, and a heck of a lot more. The results can be stultifying and very damaging to your chances if you are the sort to give up easily.

I am one of ‘those’ people who took time off to write. I am very lucky to have an extremely supportive spouse who encouraged me to do so. If you are now thinking that means I’ve had it easy, think again. Six months into writing my first manuscript I was diagnosed with thyroid disease, my husband was retrenched from his job and a 24 foot tree fell on our house during the big Brisbane storms. Add to that, I received nothing but rejection letters to every single query I sent out to publishers and agents. Things were not going to plan and it was very, very hard.

Somehow, though – and here is where the perseverance bit comes in – I managed to write a second, and much better, manuscript and tried again. Now, five years later, I have just signed with a literary agency and am starting work on editing the story – for what feels like the billionth time – in the more real hope of interesting a publisher.

Not the ideal journey to becoming an author, perhaps, but here’s what I’ve learned:

Your writing is key – do everything possible to ensure it is the best it can be, and I don’t mean asking your family. They will always be on your side and that’s not what you need. Join your local Writer’s Centre and find a manuscript assessor. I edited my own work three times and then hired Louise to edit it again. Is it really worth the expense? I sent my work, edited by me, to every publisher in Australia and it was rejected. I paid for professional advice and now I have an agent.

Listen to everything that’s being said to you by the people who know. I was rejected by a tonne of agents earlier this year but one actually took the time to write a personal letter of explanation suggesting that I was aiming at the wrong age group. I was so cut up about the rejection that I almost missed the significance of that particular crumb of advice. And they will be crumbs and you have to fall on them like they’re nuggets of gold, even if all you can hear is the criticism.

Cast a wide net – as in global wide.  My agent is in London. By all means go local to begin but understand that there are a handful of publishers and agents in Australia and a shedload of writers – unless you’ve written that must-have story in which case I’m struggling with my resentment. I smashed the internet doing research and you really have to look. I strongly recommend the following websites: for agents that rep in your genre, for new agents alerts – you have far more chance with agents who are looking to build their lists, Sarah’s blog at for tips on query writing and many more that I can’t fit in here.

Remember, I was totally green, I knew nothing about the industry that I was hoping to carve a career in, but I dedicated myself to it utterly and I’ve made it this far. You can too.

Alison Mather signing her agency contract

Alison Mather signing her agency contract

Writing success really is one part inspiration and ten parts perspiration. Keep at it, and if you’ve got any tips on how to keep motivation up while persevering, do share them with us below. Cheers! Louise

How publishers want writers to behave (professionally)


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Harlequin Enterprises is the biggest publisher of romance in the world, and when their Australian digital-first arm – Escape Publishing – puts out a blog to let writers know how publishers would prefer them to behave, it’s sensible to take notice!

Click on the link below to find out how to interact professionally with a publisher, and note the actions that sabotage a writer’s reputation so you can ensure you’re not doing any of them yourself.


The Guilty Pleasure of Solitary Writing


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solitary writingFor writers who aren’t already subscribed to my blog at, my latest post is on…

The Guilty Pleasure of Solitary Writing

If you have a passion for creating stories but struggle to find time for them, take heart, inspiration is at hand!

Writers: The Power of Viewpoint


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Last year 7 of my clients were contracted for the first time by some pretty prestigious publishing houses. In the current publishing climate that deserves a Wahoo! But it also warrants a bit of analysis. Why did those 7 manuscripts get across the line and not manuscripts from the other 15 clients who I either mentored or did manuscript assessments for. In a word, their strength was…


Each of those 7 ‘lucky’ authors had a strong grasp of viewpoint hold (sometimes called point of view) and as a result their characters came alive on the page. We saw the world through the filter of the character’s senses (sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing) and were privy to the character’s internal life (thoughts and feelings) which revealed inner conflicts that upped the ante of the external conflicts the character was already facing. Each genre has it’s own formula for how much of the character’s internal life should make it onto the page. Action adventure novels at the low end, romance and women’s fiction at the high end. But wherever your novel fits into that spectrum, you do need to understand and use viewpoint to make us care enough about your characters to read a whole book about them.

I recently assessed a manuscript that had viewpoint problems and I’d like to share here a small section of that report:

iStock_000017868898XSmallTo create an internal life for the characters and thus build characterization, we need to know what characters are thinking and feeling. If the majority of the novel is action and dialogue with hardly any thoughts and feelings expressed, it doesn’t help us get to know your characters. And if we don’t know him and care about his journey, why should we bother to read about it?

The proviso here is that you only give us the thoughts of the character who has viewpoint at the time. Stay deep in their thoughts, feelings, physical reactions, to help us bond with them and feel as if we are them for the period of time that we’re reading.

We need to feel the character’s fear, not just see the circumstances that would inspire fear. And I don’t mean to write He was scared. In a story written for adults you have to pull us into the character’s emotions by ‘showing’ them, not ‘telling’ us about them. Does his pulse jump when he’s excited? Does his heart slow when he’s scared? Does it thump unevenly when he’s terrified? Can he stride when he’s confident and stagger when he’s overwhelmed? Show us how his emotions affect him, and above all keep us in the loop with his thoughts. Not just thoughts about what’s happening right now.  Memories, and visualizations of what you think the future may hold, both have the power to evoke emotion. You need to create a depth to the story because action and dialogue just skims the surface of the character’s experience of what’s happening. You have to make us feel if you want us to care!

Whenever I meet agents or publishers and ask them what they’re looking for, they always give me some version of “An interesting story with characters that I care about.” Every time. Interesting story (plot). Characters I care about (characterization).

Your number one tool to build characterization is viewpoint. Learn it (there are heaps of resources on the internet to help you and I’ve got one on my website here). Practise it. Get published!

Workshop Wednesday: The Chemistry of Reading


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nikki_loganToday’s Workshop Wednesday guest is Nikki Logan, talking about her book The Chemistry of Reading which she’ll also be giving a seminar on at WRITEFEST in Bundaberg on 18th May, 2013.

But before we get to that, here’s a snippet of info about the author:

Nikki Logan is the President of the Romance Writers of Australia (Inc). She writes nature-based romance for Harlequin Enterprises and Entangled Publishing and has published sixteen books in addition to her craft book ‘The Chemistry of Reading’. Visit her at: 

Louise: I’ve attended Nikki’s seminar on The Chemistry of Reading at the Romance Writers of Australia conference and found it fascinating (must-hear info for writers) and am thoroughly looking forward to attending Writefest in May to revisit the info.  But without further ado, here’s Nikki…

WriteFest 2013 – The Chemistry of Reading (Nikki Logan)

I write full-time in the world’s most commercial of commercial fiction genres, romance. But I cling to my two-day-a-week ‘day job’ to make sure the basic bills get paid because, more than most, I know the difference between writing full time and writing for a living.

To make a living, commercial fiction writers need to build a following large enough to guarantee repeat readership. They need to be prolific, consistent and visible if they want to hold—and grow—their readership but above all they need to engage and excite readers. Readers are fickle and easily swayed by the next good looking book that buys them a drink, and so the mechanism that bonds a reader and an author’s work together needs to be much deeper than just a conscious ‘reader loyalty’.

Ideally, it needs to be cell deep.

The key to that level of cellular-engagement is arousal.

In 2011, I was asked to present in the romance stream of SwanCon/NatCon50. I planned a short examination of the different ways readers can be aroused by fiction. The visceral arousal of a good thriller, the emotional arousal of a romance, the intellectual arousal of a mystery/intrigue novel, the sensual arousal of erotic fiction or the creative arousal of an interplanetary fantasy.

As I got deeper into my topic, I realised that I was only telling part of the story. Before I could look at the technical aspects of how to increase the arousal of your readers, I had to examine why you would want to. And before why, it was important to understand what you were trying to achieve. What was it that happened, chemically and biologically, in the body that fuelled engagement and fed arousal.

And what I found was fascinating. A world of mirror-neurons, insatiability, and experiential ranking, and some of the most ancient, base functions of our bodies being utilised in the commission of one of our most modern, cerebral ones—reading.

And so my workshop ‘Arousing your Reader’ became ‘The Chemistry of Reading’.

I hunted the internet for papers and websites and books relating to the body’s physical response to reading, pulled what I could together, chewed it up and regurgitated it first into a presentation and then into a how-to book – ‘The Chemistry of Reading: Arousing your Reader. The book seeks to help us understand how reading impacts on the human brain and how to make the most of that knowledge to enrich and empower your own writing.

In essence, how to have someone sitting up in bed at 2am on the morning of an important meeting ‘finishing the damn book’.

Your damn book.

Chemistry cover_lizardAt WriteFest I’ll be presenting a live 90-min version of this workshop (and the how-to) and taking participants through some practical workshop examples to show the theory in action on a couple of commercial blockbusters. Come along if you’re interested in how you can, as a writer, exploit the basic biology of the reading experience.

But if you can’t make it (or if you can’t choose between awesome WriteFest sessions), check out The Chemistry of Reading: Arousing your Reader instead. It’ll be the best $2.99 you’ll ever spend on your writing.

Louise:  Thanks Nikki. I’m looking forward to catching up with you over the Writefest weekend. If anyone has any questions for Nikki about her book or about Writefest, please drop them into the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

And if you’re interested in other Workshop Wednesday topics, the full list is here.

What cats can teach writers about getting published


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Winnie & Millie I’m cat sitting this week: two dear 18 year old ladies called Winnie and Millie, both of whom know and like me. Apparently these old girls have been together for most of their lives, and as they’re the same breed and size you’d think there would be some similarities in personality, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Winnie, the paler of the two, is like a timid little mouse. She makes no sounds at all, runs behind lounges when you want to pat her, hides out in the back shed during the day, and often misses out on food because she hangs back. Millie on the other hand is like a force of nature. She’s loud and proud! The darker of the two, she meows around the house in the middle of the night (in a Kathryn Hepburn voice) if she’s either lonely, hungry, bored or a bit achey. She stands beside the milk bowl until you put milk in it. She stands beside the sliding door to the upstairs deck and waits until you open it so she can sun herself – in both cases meowing if you don’t attend – and generally going through life with this amazing sense of entitlement.

I was having breakfast on the deck this morning, watching the two cats: Millie rolling around the deck admiring the ocean view, watching the Willie Wag Tails flit about, and warming her coat with some gentle morning rays. Then there was Winnie, hiding under a chair in the dining room, looking like she’d love a pat or a bask in the sun but not game to come out. What happened to her sense of entitlement? She’s just as deserving of love and sun and food as Millie. But she doesn’t get any because she’s scared.

As a writing mentor and author myself, I’ve met hundreds of writers, both published and unpublished, and I’d be an idiot if I hadn’t noticed patterns of behaviour in those who get published and those who don’t. Unfortunately it’s very much a Millie and Winnie situation. Talent is definitely not the deciding factor.

Millie in the sunMillie writers are distinguished by a sense of entitlement. They stand at the milk dish or the sliding door expecting to get what they want (read: submitting to publishers, agents & competitions and believing in their right to be published). If they get a rejection or are ignored, they don’t walk away, they meow louder (submit to more competitions, agents and publishers) knowing that sooner or later their needs will be met. Millie writers will eventually get published.

Winnie under the tableWinnie writers, however, are usually crippled by self-doubt and hide behind talk about how hard things are, how few people are getting published, how fickle the industry is, how crappy their writing is. Winnie writers don’t submit their work confidently and regularly because there’s a soundtrack in their head that says What’s the point. and how can they become published if no-one sees their work?

Now I’m not suggesting that any old rubbish will be published if you only persist. Of course you have to learn your craft and continue improving. This conversation isn’t for beginner writers, it’s for those who should be published by now. Beyond talent and writing skill, how do you develop a sense of entitlement? Firstly, work out why you think you deserve to be published. Have you been writing for ten years and have worked damn hard? Are you innovative? Talented? Fabulous at editing? Stir your ego up. Get it on the job. Be a little grandiose in your own mind. Then write that down an put it where you can see it all the time.  Mine is:


Purely my opinion but I believe it, and it gives me a sense of entitlement, particular in the fantasy genre. Of course I don’t usually advertise that because I don’t want people to think I’m a tosser. But I’m sharing it with you because defining why you deserve to be published will motivate you to write, to submit, to weather rejection, and to ultimately succeed in your career.

Don’t take no for an answer. When I was unpublished I had the Apollo 13 rescue statement pinned to my computer: Failure is not an option.  Get cranky if that’s what it takes, but beyond the anger define why you damn well deserve to have a book with your name on the cover. Get a little Millie swagger happening (in your own mind, don’t share it with others or they’ll think you’re a tosser too!). You’ll be surprised by the results.

And if you have twenty minutes to sit with a coffee and watch this amazing TED talk, I promise it will show you practical ways to become more like Millie and less like Winnie…

New Years Resolution: Get Published!

Welcome to 2013 and all the publishing success that it contains. If you’re an as-yet unpublished author and want to be picked up by an agent or publisher, can I suggest that you make today – the first day of the year – the day you resolve to cut through all resistance (your own self-sabotage and whatever is external that’s stopping you achieving your writing goals) and GET PUBLISHED. Then you can have an awesome book launch with your friends!


90% of the process will be you deciding that publication really is what you want from life (as opposed to sitting around watching reruns of Friends) and then intending to achieve it.

Once you’ve decided that you WILL be published, there are simple steps you can take to get you there:

  1. Write a novel in draft and type The End.
  2. Edit the novel to the best of your ability – first structurally, then copy editing (grammar, spelling etc).
  3. Get critique from a crit-partner or writing group and edit again.
  4. Pay for a manuscript assessment and edit again.
  5. Get a crit partner or writing group to check your finished copy for typos.
  6. Submit your polished manuscript in the correct industry formatting to US writing competitions or Australian writing competitions (purchase the Australian Writers Marketplace for a list) or manuscript development programs with publishers or publishers slush piles or agents (if you want one).
  7. When/if you get rejected, submit to someone else. Have a list and work down the list. Be quietly confident about your work, but not boastful. Believe in it, and believe in yourself.
  8. Email me (as many of my clients have) when you get a writing contract so I can cyber-celebrate with you!

It might sound like a simple list – too simple – but the honest truth is that 95% of people I talk to about writing never even finish step one! Agents and editors have told me that 80% of people who pitch to them at conferences and who are then invited to submit their novel, never do! Can you imagine that? An editor of a big publishing house says “That sounds like an interesting idea. I’d like to see that manuscript,” and the writer goes home and does nothing about it. Crazy! But true. Self sabotage.

Have a writer friend keep you on track. Work through the list: write, edit, submit. If you work hard and have talent, it’s easier than you might think because so many people don’t take the necessary steps.

And if you’ve got any questions along the way, email me. I’d be happy to offer advice.

Good luck! (but remember, that luck is the meeting of preparation and opportunity – be prepared for your opportunity when it comes along. Make your own luck!

Mentoring Milestones

2012 has been a bumper year for me as a writing teacher, with 7 writers I’ve worked with securing publishing contracts.  It often takes many years of hard work for writers to see their name in print, so as a mentor and manuscript assessor I don’t measure my success by instant results.  However this year has been particularly gratifying with many hard-working clients finally realising their dreams of publication. If you would like to become a published author yourself, I encourage you to read these novels and see what publishers are currently buying.

In no particular order:

NoStringsAttachedBridgetGrayNo Strings Attached by Bridget Gray (Harlequin Escape)

She saved his life, but she wants more from him than gratitude…

Mei Jing is feeling conflicted about not telling Rod that she is his rescuer. And as their relationship grows, her conflict is heightened after each date… She knows Rod is seeking the woman who saved his life, but Mei Jing struggles to find the right time to tell him the truth. Will she be able to trust that what she feels is his love for her or Rod’s gratitude for his rescuer?

InSafeHandsIn Safe Hands by Lee Christine (Harlequin Escape)

She thinks she needs him, but she doesn’t know the secrets he keeps…

Threatened with the publication of naked photographs taken in her law student days, defence attorney Allegra Greenwood enlists the help of former SAS Commander Luke Neilson, unaware of his involvement in her brother’s death in Afghanistan.

In a race to stop the photographs appearing on the Internet, Luke battles a hidden enemy, his growing feelings for Allegra, and his conscience, which demands he protect a fallen comrade’s sister. As the stakes increase and more sinister motives unfold, Luke not only has to fight to save her career, he has to fight to save her life.

PrincessAvengerBernadetteRowleyPrincess Avenger by Bernadette Rowley (Penguin Destiny)

Passionate and headstrong, Alecia is no ordinary princess. Angered by the cold-blooded murder of her first love, she sets out to avenge his death.

Army Captain Vard Anton, the epitome of masculine strength and grace, is dealing with some dark secrets of his own. When he is appointed Alecia’s body-guard, both find it hard to ignore the chemistry between them.
With assassination attempts and the threat of an arranged marriage looming over her, Alecia realises her time is running out. But Alecia’s biggest battle is the one within as she tries to suppress the raging desire she feels for the powerfully attractive Vard.  Can Alecia resist Vard while trying to exact revenge and avoiding the lecherous attentions of her husband-to-be? Will the power of love and desire be enough to unite Alecia and Vard forever?
Though separated by class and palace intrigues, Alecia and Vard are entwined by desire in this wonderful fantasy romance.

Flesh_Kylie_Scott_2_1Flesh by Kylie Scott (Pan Macmillan Momentum Books)

Ali has been hiding in an attic since civilisation collapsed eight weeks ago.

When the plague hit, her neighbours turned into mindless, hungry, homicidal maniacs.

Daniel has been a loner his entire life. Then the world empties and he realises that being alone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Finn is a former cop who is desperate for companionship, and willing to do anything it takes to protect the survivors around him.

When the three cross paths they band together; sparks fly, romance blooms in the wasteland and Ali, Daniel and Finn bend to their very human needs in the ruins of civilisation.

Lust, love and trust all come under fire in Flesh as the three battle to survive, hunted through the suburban wastelands.

HeartOfABeastJosephinedeMoorHeart of a Beast by Josie de Moor (DoctorZed Publishing)

In 1847 the love for a woman and a debt of honour threatens to destroy two men in the harsh penal colony of Norfolk Island.

Driven by intense jealousy and guilt, Lieutenant Edmund Thornton sets out to destroy convicted felon, Michael Hanlon, both of whom share a love for Sarah Henshall.

Her unexpected arrival on the island sets into motion a series of tragic events.

Can Edmund slay the beast of jealousy and find redemption? Or must he accept his fate and risk losing forever the woman he can no longer live without?

sex-drugs-and-meditationSex, Drugs & Meditation a memoir by Mary-Lou Stephens (Pan Macmillan)

Miraculously, Mary-Lou Stevens has just made it into her forties. With the aid of therapy and NA/AA she has overcome a tricky childhood (youngest of six kids, evangelical parents); drama school; drug and alcohol addiction; the lure of rock and roll; and her spectacularly poor taste in men. She has landed a dream job as a broadcaster for the ABC. Life is looking good. Except that Mary-Lou has a new boss, a psychopath in a suit, a harridan in high heels.

Determined to avoid MORE therapy, and desperate to cope with an increasingly toxic work environment, Mary-Lou signs up for a ten-day meditation retreat that requires total silence, endless hours of sitting cross-legged, and a food-as-fuel kind of a diet (i.e. basic). For a woman who talks for a living, is rarely still and cooks for comfort, this was never going to be an easy ask.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation is a tale of learning to sit still, shut up and gain wisdom. It is a woman-against-the-odds scenario. But rather than travelling to the Third World or battling drought and pestilence on the farm, Mary-Lou must take the hardest path of all: to confront and overcome, once and for all, the darkness within.

Funny, sage, insightful and just a little bit twisted, this is meditation for the mainstream and New Age without the whoo-whoo.

The Batchelor Prince by Jane Beckenham (Entangled Publishing)

Release date: 2013

Guest Blogging on self publishing


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Today I’m a guest on Marianne de Pierres’ blog, discussing how I self published my backlist of romance stories as ebooks. You can click on the image below to read the article:

Workshop Wednesday: Worldbuilding with Rowena Cory Daniells


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Today’s Workshop Wednesday guest is Rowena Cory Daniells, sharing her top tips on fantasy worldbuilding.

Rowena is the author of the best selling King Rolen’s Kin trilogy. Her new fantasy trilogy The Outcast Chronicles has just been released. And she has a gritty crime-noir also just released, The Price of Fame.

Rowena has an impressive publication list of fantasy titles, and once you begin reading it’s hard to stop. They’re addictive stories!

Readers adore her worldbuilding, and we’re lucky to have her here sharing her insights into the process:

World Building and the Flypaper-mind

Building secondary/created worlds gives you the chance to put your characters through experiences that force them to grow and adapt. Your readers go along with your characters on this journey, but only so long as your world building hangs together. If, at any time, the reader spots an inconsistency, they’ll stop reading to think about it. The moment they do this, you’ve broken the ‘Willing Suspension of Disbelief’. Once you’ve lost them, it’s twice as hard to win the reader back. So world building is important.

World Building requires a broad knowledge of societies throughout history. In fact…

What you need is a mind that works like flypaper. When I was a kid we didn’t have fly screens on our windows and in summer you couldn’t keep the windows shut so flies were a problem. My grandmother would hang a flypaper strip in the kitchen. It was coated with something that flies thought smelled nice so they would land on it and get stuck. (I was going to include picture but it would probably put you off your dinner).

When I say you need a ‘flypaper mind’, you need the kind of mind that remembers interesting/quirky/worrying things. For instance, in some New Guinea tribes it was the custom for female members of the family to mourn for dead relatives by cutting off part of a finger from the joint up. By the time they become old women, their fingers are just knubs.  I don’t remember where I read this, but it stuck with me. I haven’t used it in a story, but when I do, I’ll give it a slight twist. The underlying theme will be the same — the high price of ritualised mourning — but it will be consistent the world and society I create.

To create interesting secondary worlds you need to have a broad general knowledge, packed with all the weird, wonderful and worrying things human beings have done over the years. This means that while you are writing, things will spring from your subconscious contributing towards a richer world.

Your created world must be logical, but not too logical. As a species we aren’t particularly logical. It’s only in the last hundred years that half the population could vote and get an education, only in the last fifty years that equal pay for equal work was made law. (And this is only in first world countries).  It is those little illogical things that remind us ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’.  Your characters will believe the way they live is normal because they have grown up in their society.

And it is hard for us as writers to step outside our society. If you read science fiction and fantasy books from the 1950s, you’ll find that attitudes of the characters often reflect society’s attitudes. Try reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K Dick. (The movie Bladerunner was based on this book). By researching history and other societies, you can glimpse how people have lived and are living even now.

Research is wonderful and a great place to start. If you are list-minded you can build your world from the ground up. There is no way I could do justice to the breadth of what must be considered to World Build in this short post. I recommend Patricia C. Wrede, who has done a brilliant job over on the SFWA site (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America). Here’s the link and from this page you can go through: The World, Physical and Historical Features, Magic and Magicians, Peoples and Customs, Social Organisation, Commerce, Trade and Public life and Daily life (All with subheadings of their own!).

When a reader comes to a fantasy trilogy, it is like taking an adventure holiday with the characters. They have to care about the characters and the world needs to be interesting, so take the time to work on your world building.  Read about other times and other societies because you never know when you’re going to come across an interesting fact that sticks in your mind.

Louise:  Thanks for fascinating perspective on World Building, Rowena. I’m sure beginner fantasy authors and experienced writers alike will have picked up ideas to help them create realistic fantasy worlds that stick in readers minds. If anyone has questions or insights of their own about World Building, please drop them as comments below and add onto the conversation.  We’d love to hear what you think.

And if you’re interested in other Workshop Wednesday topics, the full list is here.