We’re all familiar with world-building in sci-fi and fantasy. The religions, politics, powers, and ancient mythology (and, yes, even the trade laws) that exist in Star Wars, Star Trek, the MCU, and the Potter-verse. But world-building isn’t just for magical characters wielding all-powerful technology.


Magical character? Check. Wielding all-powerful technology? Check. 

No matter the genre, the world in which your story takes place is more than just a backdrop to invoke a location (like a white sheet behind a stage to show an empty sky). Your setting is literally and figuratively your characters’ world. It has/will shape them, and possibly crush or inspire them.

The first step to building your world (and ensuring it’s presented in just the right way when you’re editing) is to decide how much influence you want the setting to have. Will it enrich each scene in subtle, nuanced ways (like the music subculture in Begin Again), or will your world be so vivid that it’s almost a character unto itself (like The Matrix)? Either way, just like your characters, you need to know the ins and outs of where your story unfolds. What’s its history? Its defining features? How does the air smell (if it even has air)? How does the water taste (if there’s even any water)? What does it sound like at night? Is it any different at dawn from how it is at dusk?

This also extends to culture and society: you need to know the mechanics of how your invented society functions, and how your characters work those mechanics. Mad Max: Fury Road has a fully complete society and eco-system: it’s grounded in details. Utterly insane details, to  be sure, but it’s 100% consistent and feels real.

Doof Warrior

World-building, son. This photo never gets old. Ever. 

If you’re so inclined, draw your world, as much as you can. If not, look for pictures, photos, paintings, etc. that both look like your world, and conjure the feelings you want your world to provoke in your characters, and in your readers. Having a visual reference can be a huge help in creating your atmosphere. If there’s a part of the world that has similar geography, go visit it and soak it in. Basically, do what you need to in order to live there in your head. Then attack your draft and make sure that feeling you have when you’re living in your world is conveyed between the action and dialogue lines, and in and between each line of your prose. Make sure every action follows the law of your world: readers and viewers have an unerring instinct for inconsistency, even if it’s felt more than thought, it will turn them away from your work. For example: if there is no air, there is no rust.

Grab your nearest copy of Harry Potter (everyone has a set of Harry Potter books in each room, right? That just us?), open it up, and see how long it takes you to figure out where Harry, Hermione and Ron are. We’re betting that in a few lines you can tell what room in Hogwarts they’re in, or which shop in Diagon Alley. (Just for the record, J.K. Rowling is a master world-builder, on every possible level — if you want to see how it’s done, read the Harry Potter books, and for a more gritty, contemporary kind of world, her Cormoran Strike crime novels, written under the pen name of Robert Galbraith).

HP books

Can never have too many of these, Harry

It’s all in the details, the feelings that bring you… well… home.

When you’re editing your story, be it script or prose, it’s important to shape your world to feel like a home. It’s your home as the creator, your characters’ home because they exist in it, and your readers’ as they escape to it.

Things We Like: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files 01) by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Every so often, a book comes along that makes you want to retroactively drop the ratings of pretty much all your books on Goodreads by a star, because now you know what five stars really looks like (pretty much all; not actually all… *cough* JK Rowling and Patrick Ness and Laini Taylor are exempt *cough*).

ILLUMINAE is that book.

Illuminae Ray V6FrontOnlyA2A_V3.indd

It’s a five star book. Really, it’s six stars. All the stars, in fact, and appropriately enough, because this is, simply put, a rollicking, gripping, adrenalin-rushing, heartrending and emotionally bad-ass space novel. It’s YA sci-fi, in space, and then some. No spoilers here, but the novel opens with an attack on a remote mining outpost, deep in space. The occupants scramble to escape as space fights erupt in the skies above.

Space fights, people. Space fights.

The survivors make their escape on three different spacecraft, but the attackers won’t give up so easy. The rest of the novel unfolds from there in a relentless and thrilling story that Never. Lets. Up. It keeps evolving, spinning, reversing, tricking you, lulling you, surprising you, breaking your heart, and you JUST CANNOT PUT IT DOWN.

Seriously, when a book contains awesome space stuff and what scientists are describing as ALL THE FEELS, how can you be expected to live your life and go about your normal business?! You can’t — you can only keep reading as the authors build and build their tension to unbearable levels… and then keep building it some more.

And then some more.

Essentially, this book checks every box you could think of, and plenty that you would never imagine. It goes way beyond what you’d expect: it has pictures, diagrams, beautifully creative layout and typography. Its form often reflects its content in a poetic, mesmerizing way; it’s endlessly creative in the way it presents its story. And it’s not a gimmick that it does this, or that it’s composed of emails, surveillance reports, IM chat transcriptions, etc — it’s entirely necessary, and with a story as unstoppable as this one,  you barely notice that this isn’t a traditional narrative.

ILLUMINAE is something we’ve never seen before, and Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff need all the praise for that. They are amazing writers who know how to tell stunning, emotional and epic stories. They’ve made something extraordinary here.

Here are some awards that this book wins:

  1. Best space scenes in YA sci-fi (intergalactic travel, awesome spaceships, insane battles, the majesty of the universe, etc)
  2. Best use of nonstop, brutal sarcasm in stressful situations
  3. Most thrilling novel of 2015
  4. Coolest novel of 2015
  5. Most “when you’ve finished, turn back to page 1 and read it again” novel of 2015
  6. Best Artificial Intelligence in popular culture since HAL in 2001 (that NEEDS to be voiced by David Tennant in the Brad Pitt-poduced movie adaption)(seriously, Brad Pitt is producing the movie adaptation)
  7. Best Brad Pitt movie adaption of all time (to be awarded at some point in the future)


Six out of five space battles


FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK is the story of Leonard Peacock’s eighteenth birthday, on which he intends to shoot his high school nemesis, and then shoot himself.

Forgive Me Leonard Peacock

Heartbreaking and life-affirming in unexpected ways, this is an unflinching portrait of how a person can feel like their humanity has been steadily stripped away from them; in this case, a teen who hopes this will be the last day of his life. It holds nothing back, and tells the truth, weaving in a vivid cast of characters in Leonard’s life as it does so, in a beautifully authentic story. It also has some fresh, completely unexpected narrative tricks up its sleeve that rock you out of your expectations, and ultimately make you feel… all the feels, as they say.

In the manner of a more snarky, introspective Jack Bauer, we follow Leonard, 24-style, as the day unfolds, class by class, hour by hour, flashback by flashback, and the pressure and tension mount. His voice is acerbic, angry, hurt, lonely, yet also witty, humane, and understanding. He’s an amazing creation. The writing, the craft on display here, is fantastic. Quick is a brilliant writer, able to take his own humanity and understanding and turn it, incredibly skillfully, into a page-turner that is completely grounded in the narrator’s inner world, as well as the perfectly evoked Philly/NJ setting.

Quick has said that Leonard’s depressed, rage-filled voice came to him when he was relaxing in Paris on his first trip to the city with his wife; it was a voice that he could not ignore, despite the beautiful surroundings, and thank goodness, because this is one of the greatest YA contemporary novels ever written.

It also proves something essential about writers: we should never, ever ignore the voices in our heads. That’s what it feels like sometimes (all the time); our stories come to us unbidden, begging for our attention. If we don’t give it to them, they can just fade away again, like lonely ghosts. Having ideas is one thing; actually grabbing them and following through on them is a whole other thing. As Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour replied when he was asked if he thought he was getting better at playing as time went by: “I’m not getting better, but I think I’m better at capturing the good moments and hanging onto them.” Listening to the muse and doing what she says is critical, in life as well as in writing. Like J.K. Rowling, for whom Harry Potter and the seven-volume plotlines marched into her head during a train journey — if you don’t capture and explore it, you’ll never know where it could take you.

Quick certainly captured this story, and with Leonard’s unique and transformative perspective on his life, it makes you see everything differently in yours. In that sense, it’s a book that can change the world; a book that everyone should be shouting from the rooftops about. It’s also a massively compelling, terrifying, wild, emotion-shaking ride, which is what YA needs to be (and ideally, what all literature would be). It’s amazing when all those things are true of one book. So, please, do yourselves a favor: read this now, and then go tell everyone how brilliant it is.