World Building: Guest Post by JM Sullivan

Hi guys! My name is JM Sullivan, and I am the author of Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles. When Becca asked me to chat with you this month, I was so excited to oblige, and then she told me she wanted some tips on World-Building.

<insert video-tape screech>

Ok, so maybe my reaction wasn’t quite that dramatic, but it did give me pause. See, world-building is TOUGH. There are so many different parts to creating an elaborate world that it can seem daunting to even the most skilled writers.

But here’s the thing: without solid world-building, your story has no legs to stand on. Whether you’re working with fairy tales, science-fiction, horror, or even contemporary, the world you place your characters in has a huge impact on the events and ultimately, the ‘believeability’ of your story. You can have a killer cast of characters, but if your setting doesn’t fit, your reader won’t be able to slip into the tale you’ve so carefully crafted.

So, how can you make sure you’ve built a world readers want to get lost in? While it is a craft that definitely requires practice and finesse, a few simple steps will get you started on some very solid footing. Just remember your ABCs!

The ABCs of World Building

1. Atmosphere: First, you need to consider the atmosphere of the world you’re crafting. And NO, I don’t mean the mixture of gases that surround the planet your characters inhabit (although, if you write Sci-Fi, that may actually be a valid point to consider). Think about your favorite restaurant or hangout. What do you love about it? Is it the music they play, the lighting, or the vibes you get from the people who frequent it? All that makes up the atmosphere. Your world has an atmosphere too! When you picture the world your characters are in, what do you see? What kind of vibes are you hoping to give your reader? Odds are, if you’re writing a dark story, you aren’t going to want to paint a world filled with sunshine and rainbows. Similarly, the setting of a light-hearted contemporary shouldn’t make your readers want to cringe. A tip I find helpful is creating a soundtrack for my book. I think of the ‘feel’ I want to accomplish and find songs that help me picture it. For example, my Alice playlist was filled with dark, harsh beats and tones by the likes of Halsey, Melanie Martinez, and the Twenty-One Pilots. My Peter soundtrack has a Sci-Fi feel with lots of electronica and techno beats. It helped me to picture the world better in my head and paint it more clearly on the page. What is it you are seeing? How can you make your reader ‘see’ the same thing? Take a second and see how answering these question helps solidify your setting.

* What does it look like? If you were to take a picture of the scene, what would you see?

* What’s the climate/environment like? Is it hot, cold, neutral temperature? Are there seasons, or heavy weather?

* What are the people like? Is it a friendly community, or are they more cutthroat? Is there a reason they act like this?

* What kind of government is there? Is it neat and orderly? Chaos? Somewhere in between? What does that look like?

* How does it sound? Are your characters more likely to hear laughing or crying? Screaming? Is there a predominant accent or many different tongues? How about an anthem that moves the story? What sounds do you associate with your setting and how can you translate them into words?

2. Background: Ok. So you’ve got your picture. You know what you see, what your characters see, and hopefully what your reader is seeing. Now take a second to figure out how your world got that way. Understanding the background to your story can give you a solid foundation to help explain the WHYS of your world building. Sure, you could say that in your world cats have mutated and now everyone rides their pet Persians to work (I mean, you’re the author, it’s your prerogative), but unless your reader understands why, they are bound to have questions. And too many questions will jar them from your story. Picture the world you’ve dreamt up. Now figure out WHY it looks that way. We all know the saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day—what happened in all of the days that made it the fantastic empire it became? The same goes for your world. Think about what happened in the past to make it the way it is for your characters NOW.

* What is the history of your world?

* Have war or religion been a part of your world’s history? What impact have they had on the land? On the country? On individual people?

* What advancements have they made? Are they on the breaking edge of science and technology, or are their lifestyles more primitive?

* Are there any significant historical events that your reader needs to be aware of?


3. Characters: Alright. We’re almost done! You’ve got your picture painted, and know how it got that way. Now, you need to know how your characters fit in. Think about the players in your story and imagine them in their natural habitat. How do they REACT to the world they are in? If they are in a dystopian setting, are they only concerned with survival, or are they trying to make it better? Knowing what your character’s feeling are towards the situation they’ve put in will make it easier for you to portray those same emotions to your readers.

* What is your character’s attitude towards the world? Do they embrace it or want to change it?

* How has the world impacted your character? Has it affected their personality or viewpoints in any way?

* Is your character’s viewpoint towards the world drastically different than other characters? If so, why? What makes them feel so strongly about it?


It may seem like world-building is an insurmountable task, but in all likelihood you’ve probably considered some, if not all of these aspects of setting. The hard part is putting it together. But, if you remember your ABCs and consider Atmosphere, Background, and Character, you can build a complex setting around your characters that seamlessly draws your readers into an engrossing and believable world they never want to leave.


About JM Sullivan:
J.M. Sullivan is a Science Teacher by day, and an author by night. Although known to dabble in adulting, J.M. is a big kid at heart who still believes in true love, magic, and most of all, the power of coffee. If you would like to connect for a healthy dose of sparkle and positivity, you can find her on Twitter or Instagram @_JM_Sullivan.

 Author Links:
Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook



Be sure to check out JM’s new debut novel!

Book Synopsis:


Ever since the outbreak of the Plague, life hasn’t been easy, and for seventeen-year-old Alice Carroll, it just got worse. Her sister, Dinah, has contracted the ‘un-deadly’ Momerath Virus and without a cure, will soon be worse than dead. She’ll be momerath.

Alice must leave the safety of the Sector and venture into Momerath Territory to find the antidote – if it exists. Chasing a rumor about a mysterious doctor with the cure, Alice falls down the rabbit hole into Wanderland, where ravenous momerath aren’t the only danger lurking.

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Amanda Gernentz Hanson’s Top 10 Writing Tips to Create an Amazing Character

Amanda Gernentz Hanson, the author of Something Beautiful, shares with us how she creates her awesome characters. Check out her great writing tips!

Top 10 Writing Tips to Create an Amazing Character

Here’s the thing about writing compelling characters—they are complicated, and messy, and (generally) human. Character creation needs to be well-rounded and consistent in order to work in a story, which is definitely the hardest part. I am a plotter—I can’t fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing. Therefore, my characters are often mapped out ahead of time, from start to finish. Here’s a general map of how I create characters when I’m writing:

1. Pick a great character name.

I don’t know if all writers feel this way, but I put a lot of stock in names. I do research. I try to plot out family trees. Sometimes, like in the case of Cordelia, one of the main characters in Something Beautiful, I look to other written works, including mythology and Shakespeare. Names mean something, and I think they require a good deal of thought.

2. Consider the family.

A person’s family influences them. It’s as easy as that. You can argue nature versus nurture all you want, but your family shapes you. I always take a character’s family into account, and I usually try to include the family in the story, as well.

3. Plot out the past.

Every story starts somewhere, but what happened before? The past is another thing that shapes how the character ends up. You don’t necessarily need to be explicit with the reader about everything that happened in the past, but know it. Know your character’s beginnings.

4. What’s the relationship status?

Again, this isn’t crucial to the text itself, but know the character’s relationship status. This will help determine what the character’s demeanor might be, who and what is motivating the character, and what the character’s desires might be. Do you have to mention this explicitly? Of course not. But it helps to know the intentions, even if they’re only your intentions.

5. Who are the character’s friends?

Much like the relationship status, a character’s friends are important when it comes to shaping the character. Who would Rory be without Lane, or Blair without Serena, or Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily without each other?

6. What is unique about the appearance?

Now. Hear me out. I don’t always describe my characters appearances in depth because I don’t think it always matters. But each character usually has a defining feature. In Something Beautiful, for example, Declan has green eyes, and Cordelia has colored streaks in her hair. In one of my WIPs, a character has a lime-green snapback that she wears to parties. There’s always something, and that helps define the character.

7. What are the hobbies?

What does the character do for fun? I like thinking about how varied people are in real life, and I try to pick one defining hobby for each of my characters. Declan plays soccer and does musical theater. Cordelia writes. Other characters have ran, and played field hockey, and been avid readers. There’s always something. Find the something that makes them who they are.

8. How does this character fit into the plot?

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what your character looks like, what they do, who they’re with, and where they’ve been. Now you have to make sure each character fits into the narrative of the story. It’s very rare that characters exist without a purpose—remember that.

9. What is unique about the character that will drive the plot forward?

Building on that note, how does the character fit into the plot in a way that drives it forward? Every character, every scene, every single part of the book should drive the plot forward—that’s always the point. Do if you’re going to create a great character, remember to use them wisely.

10. Remember everyone has flaws.

Here is something that I love about the characters I write—they’re always flawed people. Don’t even get me started on Declan and Cordelia—flawed to the extreme, they are. But that’s what I love about writing. I am a flawed person. Every person I know has flaws. That’s what makes us unique. It’s what makes us human. That’s what makes us interesting, and that’s what’s important for characters.

Are these tips the end-all be-all of advice for writing characters? Of course not! This is just how I map out characters when I’m writing. I hope this was helpful to you!

Happy writing (and reading)!

About the Author:

Amanda Gernentz Hanson has been writing stories since the third grade, when she turned in a five-page story about talking dogs to a local youth arts contest. She is an instructional designer by day and an everything else by night. Amanda is a proud Latina who earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Hope College and her Master’s degree in Technical Communication from Minnesota State University. You can find her on the internet at and, and on Twitter and Instagram @amandamariegh. If you see her in the wild, she probably has a book in her purse.

Be sure to check out her awesome debut novel, available now from amazon for $5.99!

Book Summary:

Cordelia and Declan have been best friends since they were three years old. By the time they hit middle school, Cordelia—Cord, to Declan—is already feeling the blackness in her life as depression takes hold. Their mutual attraction to each other leads to a serious high school relationship, one with their foundation of friendship at the forefront. Cordelia seems to have her mental health under control. All appears to be well.

However, when Declan starts to accept his own fluid sexuality, it sets something in motion in their lives that is both beautiful and tragic as they learn to love each other for who they are.

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