Elise Carlson

A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

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Where Fantasy Worlds Come From

Where do you get your ideas? is a question writers are often asked. But the question that interests me more is ‘where do the ideas for an entire fantasy world come from’? Having already blogged about the cultures and characters in my YA Fantasy Trilogy, I took the question to three fellow SFF authors: Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Mindi Briar and J.F.R. Coates.

How did you develop your magic system(s)?

J.F.R Coates

I love magic. A well-done magic system can add a huge amount of depth and interest to a world, and it’s no a surprise I’ve found a way to include magic in every story I’ve written so far.

I believe there are several important factors to consider when coming up with a magic system. How widespread is this magic system? Who can use it? What is the source of magic? And how is it used?

With my sci-fi series, I took a different approach. I worked hard to make something separate to the Force in Star Wars, so I linked the magic to the subspace dimension that also controls the setting’s FTL travel. Only a select few can utilise this magic, and it allows for the manipulation of inorganic matter. There is even one character who can sense the ripples of distant events through this dimension, giving him a limited ability to see into the future. Knowledge of this magic is strictly controlled by the religious fascist antagonists, so exploration of these newly-developed powers is just one of the many ways the main protagonist can break away from his old life.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward

In the Goddess’s Honour world, magic is tied to tangible things. It’s present in the land to various degrees, and the leaders of various nations must be able to channel and control that land’s magical strength in order to lead. Some nations require that the prospective leaders be able to weave a Tapestry or create some other sort of artefact that is reflective of the combination of their strength and the land’s.

In Becoming Solo, each chapter has an epigraph from assorted guides to that world’s particular form of witchcraft. Since Solo is, essentially, 4H Style Revue with magic, I needed a magic system that could be incorporated into clothing –and a reason for why it was so important for the woman winning assorted Crowns–Style, in this case to win those crowns, as well as what it meant to the magic system.

Mindi Briar

The “magic” in the Halcyon universe derives from the existence of alien dragons, who are able to teleport and read minds. I hate long travel scenes and wanted a way for my characters to travel between planets instantaneously. The dragons became intense pacifists who won’t teleport anyone they perceive as distressed, which means that pilots often have to take calming drugs. That prompted a bunch of questions about what it would mean for humanity to be in a symbiotic relationship with aliens.

In Adrift in Starlight, the dragons are revealed to be hiding the existence of other alien races from humans to protect the aliens. Later in the series, as the trust between humans and dragons breaks down, humans begin working on ways to steal the dragons’ power for themselves using genetic modification. This results in a group of humans who have dragon-like powers —the excuse I needed to give my characters “magic” but keep it plausible in the realm of science fiction.

What informs secular culture in your world?

J.F.R. Coates

This largely depends on what genre I’m writing, as that can play a big part into my vision for the world. My fantasy setting of Farenar tends to be one that I would like to live in – there is still conflict there, with wars between the gods and different interpretations of magic providing plenty to keep interesting, but I don’t tend to include a lot of the bigotry present in our world.

My sci-fi series, on the other hand, was a look towards the future of this world. I considered what might happen a few hundred years into the future if a few certain key events played out – largely revolving around the rise of the Catholic Church returning to a place of utmost power, like it had wielded in the Medieval Ages. This resulted in a pretty grim fascist empire controlling two of the three star systems humanity had reached. This also gave me a chance to explore the third system through the story, with all the issues and problems they face.

Mindi Briar

Quite honestly, I’m writing a world I would want to live in. I got into solarpunk back in 2015, and that’s been a huge inspiration for the planet Halcyon. I came at it with the mindset of, “If I got dropped on a new planet to build a society from the ground up, how would I structure it?” So I made it a socialist utopia where everyone works together for the common good, with the dragons as telepathic enforcers to keep everyone honest. It took a lot of drafts to fully flesh out my ideas, and half of it doesn’t even hit the page until book 3 in the series.

The other planets in the Halcyon universe are the late-stage capitalism foil to Halcyon’s socialism. There’s environmental damage, prison slavery, wealthy people taking too many resources…the Imperial government is kind of my take on where society could go if nothing ever changes.

How did you decide who would occupy positions of power?

J.F.R Coates

Characters in positions of power come in various forms in my stories – I definitely have a few with noble goals and intentions, but probably an equal number who abuse that power. Some even sway from one side to the other. The type of character they are can depend a lot on what my intentions for that power structure are. It is no coincidence that those in power in the fascist empire of the Reborn setting are older white men.

Monarchy and hereditary rule isn’t always portrayed as evil in my worlds, but it does lean that way more often than not. I like to display it as a flawed system, even when the characters in power have the best of intentions. This is certainly shown through the Destiny of Dragons fantasy series, where two of the main characters get their opportunity to rule, with varying levels of success.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Positions of power are tied to both leadership roles and the favour of the Seven Crowned Gods in the Goddess’s Honour world.

In Becoming Solo, leadership roles are earned by proof of magical strength and becoming a Solo-qualified magician, either by Academy graduation or else winning Fair Crowns. Otherwise, the witch either loses their power or must join a family spell matrix, where their power joins with others to produce magical goods. Solo magicians get to take credit for their creation. Family spell matrix participants are not identified in the products that the family creates for the use of those who are magical and non-magical.

Mindi Briar

In early drafts, Halcyon was ruled by a queen. It was my fantasy-world default, because who doesn’t love a good royalty story? However, the deeper I dove into worldbuilding, the more obvious it became that a monarchy was fundamentally incompatible with the idea of a socialist community. It had to become a democracy. But I still left the dragons in charge because their control of human culture had interesting implications that I wanted to explore.

In contrast, all the other planets in the Halcyon Universe are controlled by an emperor—one man with absolute power. This is portrayed as problematic in a number of ways that are, again, based on my frustrations with real-world systems of government.

What inspired religions?

J.F.R Coates

Religion takes a massive role in both of my settings. In the Reborn series, the entire conflict revolves around the position of the Catholic Church as the primary antagonist. I took a deliberate look at the church in the modern day and extrapolated out what I believed to be a logical conclusion, should the church be guided by the will of corrupt and power-hungry minds. These are people who do not care about the heart of the religion (which I intentionally did not criticise throughout the story), but are instead guided only by their own ambition. This is a religion that has been weaponised into something truly monstrous. Looking at how the world has developed since I first started writing the series, sometimes I wonder if I did not go far enough.

By contrast, the Farenar setting portrays religion much more positively. If anything, the religion spawned the world in my mind – it all started with the gods. They live, breathe, and walk through the world and are a big part of the many conflicts. Most of them seek to better the world, but some of their number seek instead to rule it.

Mindi Briar

Writing a made-up religion based on the dragons turned out to be an interesting way to deconstruct my personal IRL beliefs. Writing characters who were discovering big, life-changing truths about the universe was a way for me to dive deep into what I thought those truths were for myself. (And that’s the short version of how writing magical sci-fi helped me leave a cult…lol.) Anyway, I wouldn’t say the Halcyon Universe’s religion is an exact representation of my spiritual beliefs, but there are scenes, settings, and situations very heavily based on my religious past, with something of a rose-tinted filter over them.

What other sources of inspiration does your world draw on?

J.F.R Coates

So many of my inspirations come from the great authors who wrote rich and vivid worlds before me. I may not take directly from their work, but their writing has always inspired me to improve me own. My favourite authors will always include Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, and Philip Pullman. Our stories may be very different, but they are certainly my inspirations.

Other inspirations can come from strange places. One WiP series has been inspired by my childhood in Somerset, my fascination with an island in the Bristol Channel, and local myths.

The Reborn series was spawned because a friend told me to “turn him [main character] into a stoat.” So I did. And I wrote four books to explain why.

Mindi Briar

Reading fantasy and sci-fi inspires me all the time! I love to read books with lush, creative, wild descriptions that transport me somewhere new. It kickstarts my own imagination and forces me to think about different aspects of my own worldbuilding. A fantasy about road construction? Yeah, hmm, who builds the roads in my world? Or I’ll pick up a book that’s created a totally unique social culture and it’ll force me to think about how my world’s culture would be different.

J.F.R. kneeling beside an emu to pet it, wearing grey tshirt, jeans and sunnies over his short brown hair.
J.F.R. Coates

website
Reborn Book Cover: one fox person lifts another off rocky ground by the hand, storm cloud cloud background.
(The book with the Catholic Church as antagonist)
Mindi in a bright pink top and green, floral, elbow length cardigan belted at the waist and purple framed glasses. Smiling whimsically to one side, her long blonde hair half tied back.
Mindi Briar

website

Adrift in Starlight Cover: title displayed over purpled planet background, blonde (white) woman character hanging from top of cover reaching to hold mixed race, dense dark curled woman character hanging in the sky.
(The book with dragons)
Blonde Joyce smiling in black brimmed hat and glasses.
Joyce Renalds-Ward

Joyce’s website

Becoming Solo Book Cover: woman with gold face paint in red and gold robes holding ball of light between her outstretched hands.
Pledges of Honour Cover: title above a stone, silver sword with a brown and a purple stone tied to its hilt lying on grass, right.
Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

Manipulator’s War Origins -the inspiration for the character’s, themes and world building in my YA Fantasy Trilogy.

Fantasy Author Features:  
Mara Lynn Johnstone (SFF)

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA, SFF)

Nikky Lee (YA, Fantasy)

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

For me Pride is complex. Raised in a cis, binary, heterosexual world that gave me zero role models and was oblivious to my existence means that like many, I didn’t realise my identities were queer until later in life. After three years, I still haven’t referred to queer history as ‘our history’ or the LGBTQIA+ community as ‘our community’. That seems presumptuous. And I hit these difficulties before considering what often looks to me like performative corporate allyship, companies mass producing queer products to capitalise on profits and people all saying ‘happy pride,’ while Florida’s government policies actively reshape it into a queer hellscape.

Pride Right Now

Two large rainbows arch over grassy Arthur's seat, before sunlit Edinburgh and a grey, cloudy sky in Scottland.

Pride At Work

I haven’t mentioned that its Pride Month at work. Work has been insanely busy, we’re all sick and there’s hardly a moment or the headspace to comment on something that isn’t work. I’m also the only openly queer person in my workspace and while my colleagues are kind, well meaning people, there’s a lot of ignorance. I’m not sure how much interest there is for things queer or how to proceed when I’m the only person flying the rainbow flag before all my cishet colleagues.

Pride Online

So I’m mostly seeing Pride online, packed with corporate performative allyship posts, and ‘love is love’ and ‘lets work together to make things better.’ And the cynical part of me wonders if that post is the only thing that organisation will do during Pride month (or ever), to support queer people. I’m sure some groups do more, but it almost feels like being accepting of queer people is politically correct, and socially and morally obliged, and mass displays of it at this one time of year can feel insincere.

On the flip side, so many organisations publicly displaying their acceptance of queer people does, as many recent tweets have pointed out, show the haters that hating on queer people isn’t the norm. That such hatred is unwelcome in many spaces. And while that causes initial inevitable backlash (which I’m fortunate enough to have only seen online, not irl), I share the optimism that it will ultimately help normalise being queer (especially being trans!).

Indie Author Pride Online

I was grateful when Indie Book Spotlight started #IndiePride2 and I had a means of connecting with fellow queer authors. One of the prompt questions was: what does Pride mean to you? To some on the hashtag, its a celebration of how far queer people and our status in society has come. From being gay being illegal and legally defined as a mental illness, to gay marriage being legalised in many countries, for example. But also a time to protest, and to look at what still needs to be achieved. I’d define that partly as every homophobic argument made against gay men in the 80’s/ 90’s now being argued against trans people, and the legislative assault trans people are coming under, in Florida and California in particular.

Reaching Pride, Space to Be Queer

But before discussing the present and future, I’d like to look back to how I personally and many others came to the realisation we are queer, and Pride is for us. Because things don’t just happen in a vacuum, and many of us were unable to recognise our identities for a long time, because to us our world was a vacuume.

Queerness in The 90’s

I had no idea I was queer as a child. I played with girls. I played with boys. I played with girls and boys toys. I liked pretty clothes and pragmatic clothes. And like many 90’s kids, I knew you could be gay or straight. And that was about it. It didn’t stop me from punching bullies back. ‘Girls didn’t do that’, and I ‘was a girl’ in everyone else’s eyes. But I saw the world as I saw it, I thought what I thought, felt what I felt, believed what I believed and would not tolerate shit I would not tolerate. I demanded male respect while presenting as female in a sexist era. I suppose in some ways I was ‘one of the boys’ and in others ‘one of the girls’ and nowhere did I truly fit.

Queerness in The 2000’s

‘Transexual’ was mentioned a little more then. The notion of a ‘man in a woman’s body’ and you could ‘get a sex change’. It was such early days for gender diversity. There were still such rigid expectations for women. Slut shaming was still at full throttle. But the ‘metrosexual’ was coined. Men were starting to break free of recent limitations in male gender expression, some growing their hair out, experimenting with make up, etc. And that helped me, because I realised those men were more feminine than I, and I more masculine than them. There was a little more space for me to recognise my own gender diversity.

Of course, there was still nothing like a single role model of anyone I wanted to be when I grew up. Because the gender binary was still an absolute power. But Blink 182 were rocking the charts alongside ‘metrosexual’ male artists and there seemed a little more room for queer existence than before. I even heard the terms ‘bisexual’ and ‘lesbian’. By my late teens, people were starting to say that using ‘gay’ as an insult was disrespectful to gay men and were beginning to discourage others from doing so.

It felt like millennials were starting to make and or create space to be alternative. To break away from the mainstream. Including to be queer. But so many queer labels and identities were so little, or not even understood, that for many of us, this was a time where we struggled to be what we could not see.

You Can’t Be What You Can’t See

Let me put not having labels or definitions for who I was into context. When I was 10 years old (in the 90s), I went to a family event and a male relative was there with a friend of his. My dad quietly told me, “That’s his boyfriend.” By the early 2000’s, another family member had joined the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian choir, and attending that choir’s Christmas Carols for several years became a family tradition.

I had the privilege of being raised in a family where queer family members who recognised themselves as such were welcomed, and where Pride was totally accepted. It was a very safe environment for me to ‘come out.’ But it wasn’t enough. ‘Gay’ meant loving the opposite or opposite and same sex back then. It didn’t mean not romantically loving anyone. It didn’t mean not experiencing sexual attraction. ‘Everyone’ in fiction, on tv, in books, in the movies, in real life ‘wanted’ a girlfriend/ boyfriend, and ‘wanted’ to have sex with them, sometimes on the first meeting, which I always found absurd. And ‘everyone’ everywhere ‘was a man or a woman.’

So What Am I?

Its very challenging to be proud of who you are, when you don’t even have names for the things you are. (Trust me, I’ve spent over 30 years trying to do just that ?). I respected gays, lesbians and bisexuals. I liked how they just did their thing, despite peer pressure, despite prejudice. That they went out every day defying what most people expected them to be, and were just themselves. I tried to do the same, on my own, with no role modelling what so ever, because I didn’t have labels or a clear definition of who I was, nor any examples about how to express myself as a person.

Pride as Living Space

So how can anyone be queer when you’re queer in a way that’s ‘not a thing’? Let alone how do you be proud about it? If I felt masculine, I did masculine. If I liked a guy but didn’t actually want to ask him out, or even date him, I didn’t ask him out and tried not to encourage him too much. I slowly clawed my way towards a wardrobe balancing feminine and gender neutral attire. I wrote books from female and male perspectives, alternating between them as much as I wanted.

But I didn’t gain clarity about who I was, or how to more happily be me, until I started seeing others trying to do the same. I shrugged off the many people suggesting I try online dating because ‘surely I must want a romantic and sexual partner because isn’t that what every human wants’? I moved house, country etc (surrendering to the ADHD desire for novelty and challenges, long before recognising I had ADHD ‘only boys had ADHD in the 90s’ ?). That was a convenient excuse for never bothering to date, because I never lived anywhere long. But neither I nor anyone else had terms for what I was, so they kept expecting me to want what I didn’t want.

Pride as You Can Be Who You Can See

I know many people are wary of politics on Twitter, or fear it as a hellscape, even before current management took over. But Twitter was where I found Pride. No, not the month. Pride as in people who put things in their bios like ‘asexual’ or even… they/them pronouns. I started meeting and interacting with people who were queer beyond being same or same and opposite sex attracted. I learnt from them and we learnt from each other that there are so many other queer identities. That humanity has far more ways of being than the exceptionally limited cookie cutters society had been jamming us all into since childhood, despite plenty of us never fitting.

As I said in my blog Identifying as Nonbinary, identifying my pronouns and telling them to other people was an outward way to give myself permission to be my nonbinary self. To wear feminine, masculine or gender neutral clothing. To relate to other people as just a person, even and especially when they want to relate to each other and everyone else as ‘woman’ or ‘man.’

Many in my queer generation (and earlier generations) have had to overcome the disconnect between blundering through the dark to define and express ourselves and society inventing names for us 20, 30 even 40 years later. You have this vague sense of who you are and how to be you, and then these external, ‘foreign’ labels and gender identities pop up, and it can take years for you to realise you are that thing and it is a part of you.

Pride to Save Time

Let’s fast forward to the present. Now its not just Gay & Lesbian, its LGBTQIA+. Not only can you be bisexual, you can be pansexual. You can be aromantic, or asexual or demisexual. Its trans people now, trans men and women, a gender appropriately named as a gender and not lumped in with the word ‘sexual’ even though it isn’t a sexuality. And you can be nonbinary, and gender queer and agender and SO MANY things. And with names, and definitions and books like Heart Stopper and shows like Umbrella Academy, people can see their gender and sexuality in fiction. With safe online spaces and pronouns and sexualities in bios, people can see diversity in online life.

Its no longer necessary to blunder through the dark. There are names to go with identities, and fictional and real life people to look to as examples. Its easier than ever to find your queer people, to not be alone. To have people to share experiences and challenges with. To ask questions of. To find your way on your journey of being and expressing your authentic self with.

And then there’s the bigots.

Get Back in the Closest

Yes, that’s exactly what a religious nut job recently told me, right after accusing me personally of turning western civilisation into a circus for daring to encourage, via public tweet, people to live as their queer selves. Its easy to laugh off extremists like that. And people running around saying, “the Bible says its a sin, don’t be proud to be queer” when the supposed lord and saviour of these supposed Christians said stuff like “let he who is without sin throw the first stone” and something about attending to the plank in one’s own eye before attending to the speck in one’s neighbour’s. And who, despite popular opinion in some circles that he said “hate thy neighbour” actually said “love thy neighbour as thyself.”

But Pride Month had barely began before the book What is a Woman, so packed full of attacks on trans people’s existence that I soon forgot it supposedly related to women, was released. And people are tweeting about ‘Family Pride Month,’ you know, ‘family’ as defined by bigots, in opposition to all things queer. Then there’s the ‘when do we get straight pride month?’ crowd, who are so used to everything always being about them that a whole month dedicated to someone else is apparently more than they can cope with.

A lot of the above may just be noise. But the 369 anti-trans bills currently active in the United States are not. These bills include things like denying teachers and students the right to be addressed by pronouns not matching their biological sex on their birth certificate (which would misgender me). They include limiting gender affirming care (care which spares people being trapped in a body that every time you see its reflection isn’t you, because it doesn’t match your gender, aka dysmorphia).

I’ve been very lucky with dysmorphia. My body is a mix of classic masculine and feminine traits. Only seeing myself on film do I see someone whose face or expressions aren’t right, or their voice sounds wrong. Its like watching a mockery of myself, when it is actual footage of me. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. To wish, let alone force dysmorphia on people is to wish them mental illness and self harm. And that’s exactly what Desantis seems to be praying to God for trans people to have.

The Future

So much has been gained in recent decades. Pride Month seems to get bigger each year. And yes, it is nice to say ‘happy Pride!’ and to celebrate all the queer community is and has achieved. And queer joy can be a rare thing, so much so that I don’t feel I can enter my queer ownvoices book in an author contest specifically for queer authors, because the contest is for books about “the struggle to be queer in the modern world”. So yes, there’s room to celebrate, for queer joy and plenty to be PROUD of.

But its the fight that sticks with me in 2023. This map of countries where its illegal to be queer won’t surprise experienced travellers like myself. But even to a casual observer, people referring to all LGBTQIA+ people as groomers (see Twitter) and claiming all of us are pedeophiles (see #NotADragQueen for convicted, actual child sex offenders) looks to me like people getting their ducks in a row before they shoot them. What is a Woman was described in this partly theatrical, but also thoroughly researched documentary as a rallying cry to incite hatred of and violence towards trans people. Having watched her full analysis of the book, I agree with Jessie Earl’s interpretation of it.

Yet so many bigoted morons on Twitter are tweeting ‘what rights are trans people being denied?’ Meanwhile a certain rich white woman would like everyone to believe cis women are victimised by the existence of trans women. And so many misogynists are happy to ‘defend’ TERFs against the existence of trans women (including literal, self identified fascists in my own city).

Pride to me?

In his monologue in June 2022, First Australian Mene Wyatt said “silence is violence.” A blog about Melbourne’s fascists expressed the view that most people, whom it called ‘normies’ truly oppose the ‘evil transes’. If fascists like that don’t hear people articulating that we actually don’t think trans people should be eradicated (yes, the Melbourne fascist banner called for exactly that), than Mene Wyatt is right. We’ll have haters committing violence in the name of ‘normal people’/ the bulk of the human population against LGBTQIA+ people —trans people first.

So to me, Pride is my chance to say: don’t let fascists presume they speak for you. Tell people where you stand. So no one can falsely claim to speak for you. Don’t be silent and let others believe they are committing violence in your name. (Fellow Aussies, we can use our voices to VOTE YES in the Voice Referendum, while we’re on the subject ?). Yes, things have come far for us queer folks and that’s great. But I want to see everything we’ve gained and so many have worked so hard for weather the current storm, futuresurvive and thrive.

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

Identifying as Nonbinary -my experience

Jessie Earl’s Debunking of What is A Woman, an excellent resource (long youtube video) for understanding conservative transphobia in the US.

I Think I’m Neurodiverse; ADHD? -Something I’m also proud about 🙂

Formatting a Novel Tips

Why Proper Formatting Is Important -a guest blog by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

We’ve all read the different essays from editors about editing, right? All of that good stuff about slashing excessive adjectives and adverbs, eliminating said-bookisms (definition: going out of your way to use any other dialogue tag besides “said”), cutting prepositional phrases and the like, correct?

All of that is good information to have. But I want to harp on something else about editing that isn’t discussed as often as another big issue.

Formatting.

Formatting is one of those processes that can make your editor either love you or hate you. And if you work with an editor who charges by the hour—i.e., actual time spent working on your manuscript—a clean format saves you a lot of money. Even if you work with an editor who charges a flat fee, clean formatting means that your editor has more time to focus on actual wordage rather than fixing a messy manuscript so that they can get around to working on the words rather than the formatting.

You get a better deal for the money spent on an editor if you spend a little bit of time formatting your manuscripts correctly. Period.

Some of this is simply common sense. A clean manuscript causes less eyestrain for the editor. It’s easier for anyone doing the layout in a production program if the manuscript fits standard formatting protocols. Copyediting and proofreading go much more smoothly.

Most of all, a properly formatted manuscript demonstrates that you are a professional. Period.

Style Guides

So let’s get started. What sort of formatting setups am I talking about?

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the basics, please go to this site—https://www.shunn.net/format/

Also keep in mind that all of my references are for Word. Again, that’s a professional standard. I understand that others prefer other programs, but in the long run, your documents end up in Word when editors and publishers are working with them. Your formatting needs to be compatible with Word.

The Shunn formatting style is widely accepted by all publishers. Use it, especially for margins and typeface (that means no Calibri! Use Times New Roman at the minimum. I prefer Palatino but others like Garamond, Helvetia, or Bookman Old Style. Essentially, you want to use a serif font that is readable. I personally do not care for Courier or Courier New, but that’s because I no longer find them to be that readable).

I want to emphasize something that Shunn mentions in that first page, which is start with a blank document. Some editors recommend Styles. I’m not fond of using Styles, because it adds extra codes to your document, which can cause problems when someone starts formatting for publication. Plain old blank document works just fine.

Getting Started

Another thing—you’ll see a little symbol that looks like this ¶ on the ribbon at the top of your document. Click it on, and you will see all of the formatting codes that Word wants to show you. This is helpful for figuring out some issues, and allows you to see when you’ve inadvertently hit the space bar multiple times (or your hyperreactive touch pad or keyboard does that for you), or other issues. More on that later.

Set your margins. Then format your paragraphs. That means, in Word, that you go to Format>Paragraphs. Set your line spacing to double spacing and your first line indent to 0.5, with no extra spacing between paragraphs. This means that all you need to do to start a paragraph is hit return.

Spacing

DO NOT USE YOUR TAB BUTTON FOR PARAGRAPH INDENTATION. That just causes more problems for whoever is laying out the manuscript for publication. Don’t hit the space bar five times, either. Again, that causes more issues.

Single space between sentences. Yes, yes, I know that double spacing used to be the standard and for some people it doesn’t look right. However, that era is long gone, even for those of us who started out writing on manual typewriters. Don’t do it. Otherwise, your dear editor or formatter will at the minimum need to do a find-and-replace to eliminate those extra spaces—and that double spacing between sentences can add quite a few pages to your manuscript, especially at novel length. If an editor is quoting you a flat fee based on manuscript pages, single spacing between sentences can save you a little bit of money.

One of my editors automatically deletes any spaces between a period and a hard return, because that space can cause issues in some formatting programs. I haven’t noticed that issue in particular when working with my formatting program (Vellum), but I understand that this is a problem with some programs.

Justification

Always use left justification (the default) unless you are doing something in particular with a small section, or centering a title. Right-side ragged edge is not an issue when drafting and editing, as modern formatting programs automatically convert left-justified Word documents to full-justified documents.

Page Breaks

If you use scene break dividers instead of an extra space (I recommend the dividers, but some people don’t like them), show them with a #. Some people use asterisks, or multiple #s. I’ve found that formatting programs understand # just fine, and will put a prettier scene break divider in nicely when # appears between paragraphs. Some presses have different standards—<<<>>> for one, or ~0~ for another, but # also works just fine.

Text: Formatting a novel in Word.Image: two pages of my novel Secrets of the Sorcery War formatted in word, with author name and title headers, page numbers right bottom corner, indented paragraphs, chapter heading and art and a chapter heading.

Spelling and Grammar Check

Do not completely trust your spellchecker or grammar checker in Word. I have discovered numerous mistakes in Word alone, including indicators of extra commas, word substitutions that don’t make sense (such as “cheap” when I was describing a bird’s “cheep”—my most recent gripe). One of my greatest rants is the misuse of “free reign” for “free rein.” Word will tell you to use “reign” instead of “rein,” and it is WRONG. The idiom refers to giving a horse more rein when you are riding or driving it—i.e., telling the horse to set its own pace and direction. That is what the idiom means. Period. “Free reign” is meaningless in that context. But Word also makes mistakes when it comes to the proper use of “its” versus “it’s”; “lets” versus “let’s”. Be aware.

If you don’t trust your spelling and grammar understanding, use other checkers besides Word. Also, don’t trust that it will identify all of your misspellings and typos. If the mistake looks like a real word but doesn’t make sense in context, then Word may not flag it for you.

When you are cutting and pasting across documents, or if you are working on different devices (especially switching between a tablet and desktop or laptop) be aware that Word will insert a superscript “o” irregularly in those sections. Those have to be edited out by hand, as far as I know. Some people may be macro wizards who know how to do it otherwise. It’s a pain but there’s no way around it. If everything else is clean, then editing those “o” appearances isn’t that big a deal.

Version Control (during edits)

This leads into the related but short topic of version control when working with editors or beta readers. I do not recommend working within the document that you get back from an editor or beta reader. My suggestion is that you designate one version as your final document, and do all editing within that document without cutting and pasting. Why? Because that introduces other formatting into your document, including those dratted superscript “o”s.

I learned this lesson the hard way when working with a British editor. Working in the document I got back instead of my own designated final document ended up with that person’s formatting instead of my own—including British English spell check and usages. Designating that separate final document also lets you work with multiple other versions. I do like keeping earlier versions around when drafting, because sometimes I end up cutting things that I wanted to keep in the long run.

Concluding Remarks

Basically, the lesson here is to spend a little bit of time learning how to set up your formatting options, at least as much as you can do with your device. Apps on mobile devices such as tablets and phones can be more restrictive for formatting setups than laptops or desktops. It’s probably a good idea to indicate to your editor or beta reader that you may have been doing this work in an app on a mobile device, because then they know what to look for in fixing it.

Play with your formatting and understand it. Your editor will thank you—and you may save yourself a little bit of money in the long run.

Joyce in ski gear, including goggles and helmet at the snow, pine tree background.

About the Author -Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer who splits her time between Enterprise and Portland, Oregon. Her books include THE MARTINIERE MULTIVERSE series (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, B&N), THE MARTINIERE LEGACY series, KLONE’S STRONGHOLD, THE NETWALK SEQUENCE series and GODDESS’S HONOR series. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019).

Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, skiing, and outdoor activities. She has been a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County since 2017.

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Related Reading

Editing a Novel: Scene & Line Edit Tips

Editing a Novel: Character Development Checklists

Becoming an Indie Author Part 1

Becoming an Indie Author Part 2: Book Launching

Fantasy Author Feature: Mara Lynn Johnstone

Mara Lynn Johnstone and I met via Twitter when I was preparing to become an indie author. I was an ARC reader of her debut SciFi novel Spectacular Silver Earthling, which stars a robot with attitude, whom a friend compared aptly to Bender from Futurama. In this interview, she talks about the inspiration for her world building and whacky characters.

Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing? 

I live in California, where the weather is lovely when things aren’t on fire or flooding. Husband, son, cats. I do a lot of writing-related things even when I’m not working on my own projects: organising events and anthologies for the local writers’ club, judging for contests, and planning multiple cooperative projects with other writers. Plus I play a lot of D&D with good friends, which is an excellent form of storytelling that sometimes leads to actually writing things down.

What drew you to your genre/audience age?

I’ve always loved reading fantasy and science fiction— all the exciting adventures that I couldn’t expect to do in real life. While I would have loved to grow up to be a dragon-rider, dimension traveller, or shapeshifting magician, I made the decision early on to write about it instead. I’ve never looked back.

What are some big themes your writing explores?

I’m sure if you look closely, a lot of my stories boil down to “Treating others well gets you farther than treating them badly.” That’s a pretty basic trope, but it’s amazing how many different ways you can show antagonists who are cruel and sow the seeds of their own downfall while the protagonists cooperate. Now that I think about it, the last three books I wrote all hinge on the main characters making friends who help make victory possible. It’s definitely something that’s held true in my own life, so I’m not surprised it comes through in fiction. Anyone who’s worked retail can tell you that the nice customers are the ones who get all the favors, while the pushy ones only think they’re getting a better deal. Friendship is magic in all forms.

What drives your point of view characters? 

They often have a catastrophe to avert, a kingdom/species/planet to protect, but sometimes the core conflict is as personal as specific friends that they care about intensely. My characters tend to be optimistic and resilient, though with a definite range on the “dignity to silliness” meter. A good sense of humor is crucial in coping with all manner of crises.

Some are more like me than others, but there’s always a facet that makes them feel familiar on a deep level. An element of “Oh yes, this is what I would do.” That can mean being patient and chronicling part of their life through art, or being the centr of attention with witty things to say, or being ready and willing to befriend any random animal that crosses their path. I like to say I’m an ambivert: just as happy reading alone as dancing on a table with friends. I can see myself in the quiet characters just as much as the wisecracking loudmouths — as long as they’re kind. And I like to think that all of my main characters would make good friends, just in a variety of ways.

How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you? 

A Swift Kick to the Thorax Book Cover, floating manuscript pages over outer space background, pen floating below, bite mark in bottom right corner of pages.

And for the record, Robin Bennett of A Swift Kick to the Thorax has the most similarities of any character I’ve written, simply because her first short story was an exploratory bit of nonsense that I didn’t expect anyone to ever see. Ha. It turned out to be great fun, and snowballed into two novels and an endless list of short stories. I regret nothing.

What influenced the settings they inhabit? (What real world places, experiences, studies etc influence your world building?) 

I keep a collection of ideas to use in fiction someday, and that includes many interesting locations. The sandstone beaches and bizarre rock formations in Spectacular Silver Earthling were based on those at Salt Point State Park. The car chase through a lightning storm in Swift Kick was inspired by a photo of thunderstorm weather over farmland. I am endlessly fascinated by how many awe-inspiring sights there are in our world; more than enough to create a whole galaxy of others. I’m always taking note of more. 

What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them? 

I have fun with it, first and foremost. Delightful adventures; memorable experiences; fictional friends who are near and dear to my heart. Since I grew up reading constantly, I’ve lived many a life through other writer’s books, and I hope to bring readers along for the ride with my own. There’s so much to do and see: excitement and drama, exploration and close calls, good times and cathartic emotion. My characters can find things to enjoy in even the darkest times, and they’ll see you through to the other side. Often with a feeling of “Woo, that was intense! Let’s do it again.”

Where can we find your books?

maralynnjohnstone.com/books

Headshot of SciFi author Mara Lynne Johnstone, a white, brunette wearing blue rimmed glasses, a big smile, elf ears and with a blue stuffed dragon perched on her shoulder.

Mara Lynn Johnstone grew up in a house on a hill, of which the top floor was built first. Interested in fiction, she went on to get a Master’s Degree in creative writing, and to acquire a husband, son, and three cats. She has published several books and many short stories. She writes, draws, reads, and enjoys climbing things and can be found up trees, in bookstores, lost in thought, and on various social media.

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Related Reading

You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspiration in:

Fantasy Author Features: Nikky Lee (YA SFF)

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA Fantasy & SciFi)

Natalie Kelda (YA SFF)

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

Ash Oldfield’s Interview of Me

I Think I’m Neurodivergent. ADHD? Autistic?

I’ve never considered myself to be ‘normal’ or ‘just like everyone else’. When you’re a nonbinary person, and an asexual, aromantic in a world of binary gender adults interested in romantic relationships and sex —you don’t fit. You often don’t quite present, sound or act like most people. But as I try to iron out creases that trip me up in my teaching career, and talk to neurodiverse friends on social media, I’m seeing another set of differences in how I think, feel and function that also set me apart. I Think I’m Neurodivergent (ADHD being the likely candidate).

Neurodiverse Communication

Rehearsing Conversations

I’m guessing neurotypical people rehearse conversations in their heads when they’re giving a speech, or telling someone they really care about something that really matters to them. By the time I was around fifteen, I rehearsed ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I may like to say to my friends before saying it aloud. I would approach social situations with prepared topics and comments drafted in my brain and would be happy when I got to say them all.

Did I monitor the interest levels of people as I plunged through my pre-rehearsed topics? Not really. Sometimes when I’d finished talking I did. Knowing how much to say about a topic and not rambling on when the other person isn’t as interested as me is a life skill I am still refining, in my thirties.

What are You on About?

As a teenager, I routinely initiated conversations with peers because it was the easiest way to communicate. Even as an adult I find other people starting the conversation challenging. With people I don’t know well, the first thing I think they’re saying usually isn’t what they mean. I’ve developed a habit of listening, ignoring my first interpretation, and waiting until a second or third interpretation forms in my mind before I respond. Usually by then I’ve correctly identified the topic and their intended meaning. If I take too long to do that, I comment on one aspect I’m sure I understand, to encourage them to say more, to give me more time to figure out what they’re talking about.

When I’m tired, I also struggle because I interpret things literally. I suspect that any other time I remember what I know about that person, or topic and do mental gymnastics to get from what they literally said to what they actually mean. That gets socially awkward because neurotypical people, especially adults in a professional context, tend to want immediate answers to their questions. But they don’t say what they literally mean, so I need processing time to do mental gymnastics before I can answer.

Hyper Focus

This can make social interactions difficult. For example, when I’m planning what I’m teaching next week I plan teacher groups on four days of writing, despite thirty minutes earlier discussing having only three Writing lessons that week. Because if I am planning Writing, my brain is NOT thinking about the timetable, it is thinking about WRITING (this is the case for almost every complex thing I’m thinking about, almost always).

Often in meetings I’m hyper focused on one main thing, and someone asks or talks about something else. There’s a mental distance between me and them. To cross it, I have to pull back from that one thing I was thinking about. I need at least two, if not three details to figure out where on Earth my colleague is standing, let alone how to cross the mental gulf between us to talk about the same thing. And piecing together those clues takes time, so again I need more processing time in face to face, or on the phone conversations, when adults expect an immediate response. (This is why I love emails and social media, because I can take all the processing time I want before responding.)

[2024 edit: hyper focus is how I countered extremely high, persistent levels of distractibility, stemming from lack of dopamine in my brain due to ADHD meaning my brain doesn’t filter out anywhere near as much information as it should. Hence focusing on a single thing and not four others all in that moment also competing for my attention took A LOT of energy].

Group Conversations

Picture this. You’re in a meeting in which other people frequently give very few contextual clues, and elaborate on each other’s thoughts or change the topic rapidly. You don’t have enough contextual information to pull back from your hyper-focus to get what Joe is saying, and now Jane is saying something else, and then Max changes the topic again. Its like everyone else is is cycling on a level surface as a group, and you’re in the skate park stuck on jumps. You’re hitting road blocks, and doing all sorts of crazy gymnastics to move in a straight line and wondering why its so hard to keep up with the group cycling/ conversation. This is me in staff meetings.

[2024 edit: the above is a classic ADHD struggle.]

What are Social Graces?

I’ve never been a fan of a few basic social conventions.

1. I don’t use names.

I’m a teacher. I know that people like being addressed by name. That a simple thing like that can fill people’s buckets. But in a state of nature I would never speak to anyone by name unless they had their back to me. I’m just not wired that way. I’ve had to learn to use my students and colleagues names often and it’s something I often have to do consciously and deliberately, where everyone else seems to do it naturally.

So how do I speak to people? As a sociable person who likes people, I just walk up to them and start talking about whatever I notice that relates to them/ us/ the setting at the time. I often catch people off guard, and they take a moment to process what I’m saying, and introverts struggle. But I’ve started some great conversations that way.

2. I don’t like eye contact.

This is a classic, obvious autistic trait but I was unconcious of it for quite some time. Because people look you in the eyes and insist you look back from childhood. So you make yourself do it and pretend it doesn’t bother you. Or you make eye contact so they know you’re listening but you keep finding excuses to look away. They don’t notice anything. And you don’t want to notice how uncomfortable eye contact makes you, because God knows how often how many people are trying to make eye contact with you and you’re trying to uncomfortably meet it!

3. I don’t do small talk.

When you talk to people you’re supposed to ask how they are. When they’re strangers you’re supposed to do ice breakers, or ‘polite conversation starters’ like the weather, or —hell, I don’t know because I don’t do it. Why? Because I’m not interested. I’m interested in what I’m interested in, so in a state of nature I’m just going to launch into that with no names, greetings, preamble or niceties —no time wasting— lets get into it! (Yes the impatience is likely ADHD which I have quite a few traits of, and not just the ones that overlap with autism.)

Again, I have had to spend lots of time learning and practicing asking how people are, or thinking of things that matter to them and asking how those things are going. I do care about the latter. If they start talking about it I will show interest in my responses. But its not natural for me to think what to ask about other people. I used to just assume that if something mattered to people they wouldn’t need an invitation to talk about it and would just say it, but I’m learning there are many exceptions to that.

Elise Carlson selfie, smiling, wearing glasses, a cap, with short curls poking out the sides, stripy top, river and mossy rocks in background.
Neurodiverse me, hiking in the Otway Ranges, March 2023.

Brain Functioning

Organisation

Time Management High School

I had no idea what the above words meant as a kid or teenager. I lived a five-minute walk from the back gate of my school. I walked to school and was often a few minutes late. Why? Because to get to class on time I had to know how long it took me to get ready for school, how long the walk was, factor in the time to get from the gate to my locker, to carry my books from my locker to my classroom. I had to juggle four things I have no inclination to deal with it, at the same time.

[And what was the point of being on time to class? Lining up outside the room? Waiting for everyone to slowly take their seats? If I came in right as the teacher was starting the roll —no time was wasted. I’ve always known I was a why person. If you asked me to do something I saw no reason for doing and gave me no reason —I wouldn’t do it. (More on this later.)]

Time Management University

At University I quickly realised I was not going to keep track of which assignments were due when, or even remember the assignments I had to do. And I’ve always found dates meaningless. There’s just days of the week, and which week it is of the school term or holidays (which works well for me as a teacher).

So how did I manage time around classes, a casual job and getting all the assignments done? I learned early on that starting an assignment within a week of getting it, working on it as often as I was motivated to, then doing the next got things done on time. So my ‘time management’ was just ‘start early and hope it works’. (Even now, this and ‘work on it as often as possible’ and maybe ‘achieve big thing x this week and thing y the next week is the limit of my ‘scheduling.’)

Navigating to New Places

I sucked at this, for over a decade after getting my licence. Navigating to an unfamiliar place meant looking it up in the Melways (a print book as this was pre sat nav and pre Google Maps), calculate travel time, factor in time to find a car park and time to walk from my car to the unfamiliar place. I got lost A LOT the year I got my licence. As an adventurous, easy-going person, I learned to embrace and enjoy it. If you drove too far out of town, the green signs would tell you where the next town/ suburb was and I trusted those signs and didn’t worry too much.

But when I had to be at that unfamiliar place at a certain time? That remained a challenge because I found it REALLY hard to factor all four of those things to get there on time for… about fifteen years. Not because I’m stupid. Not because I’m too lazy to plan. But because the night before when I set my alarm clock, or when I decide my departure time, I forget time to find a carpark, or get from my car to the unfamiliar place or that peak hour traffic is a thing (to this day that one catches me out).

I’m Thinking…

Hyper Focus

This has advantages too. As a teen, my mum and brother could be arguing in the next room, and I wouldn’t really hear them because I was hyper-focused on writing or editing my latest novel. But it wasn’t the greatest for my health as a teenager. In hindsight, I didn’t dress warmly enough in winter. I’d hyper-focus on the fun stuff I was doing with friends and not notice how cold I was. That wasn’t good for my asthma or hey fever.

Or I’d hyper focus on writing on school holidays, then realise it was four o’clock in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet. I still have to be careful when I’m working on anything important to me —at work or books at home— to keep an eye on the time, and not go too long without meal or bathroom breaks or get too hot or too cold (or write/edit novels until 2am when not teaching). Its a constant thing.

What’s the Point?

As I said earlier, why be on time for class, so I can line up outside, wait for everyone else to enter and sit down slowly and get zero benefits for having got out of bed a bit earlier? If you want me to do something —tell me why. The fact you want me to do it doesn’t motivate me. The fact you were my parent or teacher and even now, the fact alone that its my boss asking doesn’t motivate me. Intrinsic motivation for me is not conforming to other people’s expectations, their wants, being obedient or doing anything purely because someone asked. I care about, I want to understand, I am motivated by WHY. Tell me how it benefits people —students, colleagues, my boss, me —anybody— or how it makes my work more productive, or easier, or safer or whatever. That’s what motivates me. I don’t know anyone else so strongly motivated by being told why.

Who Cares What People Think?

I concluded as a teenager that collectively: people are stupid. Everyone else’s main motivator at high school seemed to be ‘does this help me fit in’? or ‘is it cool’? And what makes something cool? Cool kids think it’s cool. And what makes them cool? They just are. Does that make any rational sense whatsoever? No. So did I have any respect for their opinions about anything? No.

I suspect the weight I’ve given to rational arguments over everything else since about the age of seven, and especially throughout my teens, the black and white way I tend to see people and complex situations is another neurodiverse trait I have. Yes, I like people and I’ve always desired friends. But I want friends on my terms. I want to be me. I don’t want to conform to other people’s expectations of me. They expect me to a binary female. They expect me to be hetro sexual. They expect me to be neurotypical. I am none of those things. So I’ve always been disinterested in anyone who doesn’t like me for me and created my own space to be me. Since I was 15, my attitude was “I am me and if you don’t like it you can get stuffed.”

I’m Excited! Are You Excited?

There are many reasons I love teaching primary school children. Mainly, because so many things are new and exciting to them. They’re excited to be alive, and so am I. They see new amazing things and cry ‘Wow!’ They don’t care if they draw attention to themselves. They don’t care if people judge them for their enthusiasm. I don’t either.

I remember sitting in a tutorial in my first year of university and being astounded at how un-animated my classmates were. They sat so still. They looked so out of it. I put my hand up to give a wrong answer on purpose because no one else would answer the question. I wanted to knock on their skulls and call, ‘Hello? Is anybody home? Or am I taking this class with a bunch of zombies?’

There’s always been a large disconnect between my excitability and the majority of the adult population. When I meet new people, or familiar people, when I’m outside experiencing nature or exploring new places —I’m energised. I’m excited. I’m animatedly loving and living life to the full. I’m surprised that everyone is smiling at me. Then I realise I’m doing that thing where I walk around with a big smile on my face and am oblivious to doing so. This another of my traits I don’t have in common with any adults I know.

Does my brain have an off button?

I have two speeds: fast and stationary. I’m functioning at 100 miles an hour, or I’m asleep. There are rarely inbetween modes. This is because my brain DOES NOT STOP. No matter how tired I am, I am almost always thinking something, often something complicated and deep (this nearly killed me when I had long covid. My body was FUCKED and I still couldn’t rest properly for weeks).

The only things that keep me present in my physical surroundings are hyper-focusing on the scenery around me and or the inner symphony playing in my head (I often have instrumental music playing in my head, usually matching my mood, especially when I’m really happy).

As a teenager I’d sometimes stay up writing novels till midnight, when my exhausted body would insist on sleep. In my twenties I switched from power walking to running five days a week, to make my body so tired that it would drag my brain to sleep at night. (That was still crucial when I started teaching full time, which should have tired me sufficiently but didn’t). In my thirties I tire more easily, but still need to run 4km most days a week to sleep when fit (as opposed to the 6-7km I was running in my twenties). Regular exercise makes a HUGE difference in how well I mentally switch off and how deeply and effectively I sleep at night.

Stopping and Resting to Get Well

Self-care has perhaps been my single greatest challenge as a teacher. I always underestimate how sick I am. Usually drastically (and with a weak chest and asthma I can get SICK in winter). I spent years being terrible at lying in bed or on the couch. I’d get bored so easily. I’d try to write novels when my brain wasn’t up to it. I’d read them when it was still tiring. I’d go out for walks when I was barely well enough to stand because I HATE sitting inside all day. (Yes, even when long covid fatigue made me feel I’d literally gained 20-30 kilos I’d still drag myself out to walk even when a three hour lie down was what I desperately needed).

I suspect ADHD levels of desire for sensory and mental stimulation make rest very challenging for me. That’s probably why if I’m on social media a lot —I’m sick. Posts are short, easy to read and write unless I’m in a comma. And they’re stimulating. So social media is how I talk my brain into taking it easy. Then I try to switch to tv shows, then reading, to properly relax my mind and body and let them rest so I can get well. Again, learning how to do this defies all my natural instincts and has taken YEARS. I really see ADHD all over this.

Why did you change that?

In a recent meeting at work, I was asked to do something in a different order, for which I couldn’t use my normal data, with no forewarning. I sat there going WHAT? How am I supposed to do that? We’re supposed to do the other thing first? And I won’t be able to use the thing that normally helps me. How on Earth am I supposed to do that?

There was a solution, and having had to develop all sorts of habits to make navigating a neurotypical world as a neurodivergent person easier my entire life, I quickly found it. But I’m not fond of things changing without notice. Last time I missed a flight, I had to take time to take it in. Just breathe. I can’t now do x, y, or z. Plans have changed. Then gradually, one step at a time I make a new plan of how to do things. Standing in the ticketing queue for two hours was a perfect opportunity to do this.

So heads up, if you know a neurodivergent person (especially someone who’s autistic): don’t spring sudden changes on them! Sudden change is stressful. It often needs to be processed faster than I’m capable of processing it. And if you’re the parents of an autistic child: always give them an idea of how long they can do that thing they love, that they must pack up in five minutes, in two minutes, now. Sudden change is bad!

What was I doing again?

It’s classic me that at this stage in the blog, if there was any logical connection between one subheading and another —I completely forget what it is. I knew I’d fully recovered from long covid the day I found myself working on the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth jobs I wanted to do at home, having started, not finished and forgotten about jobs 1-5. I’m very easily distracted. The notion of beginning one thing and continuing it until its finished without starting at least three other things first is utterly foreign to me.

I normally have 70 tabs open on my computer, the maximum. If I don’t have every tab I use as an author and in my private life open at once, how will I possibly remember all the digital jobs I was doing? When I completely lose track, at least once I week, I open all tabs I don’t recognise. I find writing competitions, book promotions, the latest author platform to join etc.

I like open tabs for the same reason I write to do lists on physical sticky notes: because its right in front of me. I never understood the point of diaries. You write dates in them, shut them, and everything inside them ceases to exist. If I can’t see it, I forget its there. So I keep my To Do List on a single page, and in some cases literally put physical tasks where I will fall over them so I don’t forget them.

ADHD?

My high levels of energy, inability to switch off, tendency to prefer doing umpteen things at once, to forget anything I can’t see, to fail to focus well enough to manage time or navigate to new places all point to ADHD for me. My doctor thinks so too. I’ve bumbled along, noticing things I find it easier to do differently to everyone else, accepting things I suck at that they find easy, and just doing what works for me. Or making it work for me, like exercising regularly to sleep well at night.

I’m relearning to manage it all, long covid having suppressed all my ADHD tendencies completely for seven months. So my next blog on this topic will be strategies I’ve developed to help manage being neurodivergent.

March 2024 Diagnosis Update

My ADHD has just been diagnosed. I think it was in the area of focus that a medical professional told me I needed to score six for ADHD on one of the tests. He also said, ‘Congratulations, you scored nine.’ I was totally unsurprised and content with this.

ADHD has always been more obvious in how my neurodivergent self presents. But on reflection, I’ve listed quite a few autistic traits above. And there is some overlap between autism and ADHD, and my mother is AuDHD. This is likely not the end of exploring my neurodivergent-ness, but only a stage in the journey.

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Total Page Visits: 1799

Related Reading

Starting ADHD Meds & ADHD Struggles

Managing My ADHD

Simple ADHD online Test by Clinical Partners UK (surprise, surprise I score highly).

Simple Autism online Test by Clinical Partners UK (I scored low here).

Writing Diverse Characters Part 1: Problematic Rep to avoid (especially neurodiverse and disabled).

Writing Diverse Characters Part 2: How to (Write Disabled and Neurodiverse Characters Tips)

Identifying as Nonbinary

Living with Longcovid —My Experience

Fantasy Author Feature: Debbie Iancu-Hadad

Debbie Iancu-Hadad is author of YA Fantasy and SciFi with strong romantic threads. Our debut trilogies publishing journeys have run parallel and we’ve been critical readers for each other during our editing journeys. My favourite things about her books are her well-developed characters, their flaws and the banter and relationships that exist or develop between them. I also enjoy the fast pace of her stories, which keep me turning pages through her fantasy and sci-fi worlds. In this Fantasy Author Feature, we discuss her characters and story worlds.

Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing? 

I live in Meitar in the south of Israel. I’m self employed and when I’m working I give laughter yoga workshops, chocolate workshops and teach people how to improve their humour. 

I’m married and have two kids, my daughter is almost twenty and my son just turned 18. And my writing buddy Shugi is a five months old golden retriever mix. 

What drew you to your genre/audience age? 

I write the kind of books I’ve always read, which is fantasy and sci Fi for YA. Maybe one day I’ll write for adults but I’d probably need to grow up first. My first Nanowrimo project “The goodbye kids” was inspired by my daughter when she was 16, and I just stayed in the zone. My Achten Tan series has characters ranging between 16-22. 

What are some big themes your writing explores?

I like to discuss what makes us belong to a place and how where we’re from shapes our perspective. All my locations are very immersive, whether it’s a space station or a town made of bones in the middle of the desert. 

Another issue I want to promote is body positivity and the inclusion of people with disabilities. 

What drives your point of view characters? 

A profound desire to prove themselves. Mila in Achten Tan wants to release her magic and get her voice back. Kaii the chief’s son in The Bone Master doesn’t want responsibility but won’t turn his back on a friend. Haley in the Goodbye Kids just wants to avoid getting hurt again, but desperately needs a friend. 

How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you? 

There are probably pieces of me in all my characters, if not my current self then the way I was when I was younger. 

I’d love to say I have magical powers but sadly I have yet to come into my powers (I’m hoping it’s an old lady thing that’s still in my future). 

Joking aside, all my characters work through the sense of being an outsider. For me that reflects moving from England to Israel as a child and always feeling like a part of somewhere else. 

What influenced the settings they inhabit?

Achten Tan is a place like no other, a town built inside the rib cage of an ancient leviathan. 

The place is the brainchild of Chris Van Dyke, who initiated the original Achten Tan anthology. I just moved in there and refused to leave. 

The space station and futuristic world of The Goodbye Kids are nothing I’ve ever experienced outside of my imagination. I was going for a sense of extreme isolation. 

What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them? 

Millions and millions of dollars…ha ha, I wish. 

No, but seriously, I love having people share my character’s journey and being able to leave daily life aside for a while. I write about magic and it might be a cliche, but books really do have the ability to transport us to another time and place.

Where can we find your books? 

On Amazon

My fantasy debut, “Speechless in Achten Tan,” has a kick-ass tattooed witch who can’t speak, a city made of bones, giant ants, a heist by a cool ensemble cast, magic, romance, banter, innuendo, & cute boys kissing.

Prepared to be left… speechless!

Speechless in Achten Tan (Both books are on sale till Feb 14th)

The Bone Master follows Kaii Haku as he leaves the comfort of Achten Tan to save a friend kidnapped by pirates.

Connect with Debbie on:

Facebook
Twitter
Instagram
DebbieInacu.com

Author Bio

Head and shoulder photo of bright red haired Debbie, wearing a denim jacket and pink tops. She's plus sized, blue eyed and has a pink lipped smile.

My name is Debbie Iancu Haddad (46), I’m a mother of teenagers (it’s like being a mother of dragons except they burn you with sarcasm). 

for my day job, I am a public speaker specializing in teaching people how to use humor and a laugh yoga instructor.

I was born in Israel to a British mother & Romanian father who met in the immigration center in Beer-Sheva. When I was 10 months old the family returned to England for six years and re-emigrated in 1981.

Growing up bilingual in Israel was a huge help and saw me through a BA, an MA, and a third of a PhD. Even though I take studying seriously (almost no one who knows me would say too seriously) – my research interests focused on humor.

My MA was an exploration of Diet humor and my doctorate research was about humor as a communication tool used by managers and headmasters.

You may ask “don’t I take anything seriously?”

The answer is: “No. But thank you for asking”. 

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Related Reading

You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspirations in:

Fantasy Author Features: Nikky Lee (YA SFF)

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA Fantasy & SciFi)

Mara Lyne Johnson (Comedy SciFi)

Natalie Kelda (YA SFF)

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

Ash Oldfield’s Interview of Me

World Building Culture

Many writers study writing. I studied history, archaeology, politics and religion in my Bachelor of Arts, to inform my world-building. I don’t just want to build worlds that mirror eras of ours, in the past or present. Or to write only speculative fantasy that challenges flaws of the present. I want to write alternate worlds that differ from ours. To develop culture and elements like Tarlahn attitudes in my Ruarnon Trilogy, where the term ‘gender diversity’ doesn’t exist, because the male, female and midlun genders have always been. So before you begin borrowing societal and cultural inspiration for your fantasy or SciFi world wholesale from ours, take a speculative lens to things. Think about aspects of society and culture you want to write alternate realities of.


Alternate Worlds

Consider a Bronze Age matriarchy. A queer-positive iron age. Different races who interact not with racism, slavery or colonisation, but perceive each other as equals, in war or peace. Don’t import patriarchy, monarchy, democracy, monotheism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, liberalism or capitalism just because they thrive in our world. I challenge you to begin considering every aspect of society in your fictional world from ground zero (this being my personal goal in future series).

I began world building Umarinaris (in my Ruarnon Trilogy) by considering the progress of western history and tweaking it. The first humans arrived from Earth during the Bronze Age. Umarinaris’ combines bronze and iron age technology and it has sailing ships like those of the western colonial era and monarchy and sexism. But feminism is on the rise, and nonbinary people are established. Multiple gods are worshipped, as are ancestors. There are deists (who believe the gods created the world but had no further impact upon it) and atheists. I’ve cherry picked features from different eras of western history, and written nonbinary people’s status in society speculatively. I invite you to cherry pick for or alternate your SFF world similarly, as we unpack many features of society below.

History

Is it written? Do cave paintings, frescoes or statues with engravings recount major events?

Do bards recite poems or songs of legends and myth?

Is history written by the winners (winning throne or religious leader claimant/ conquerers/ winning political ideology etc)? What lies does any group’s history tell? Will these be exposed in your novel?

Literature

You might not think of fantasy civilisations having pure fiction, as opposed to recalling myths and legends. But by the early second millennium BCE, hieroglyphics in ancient Egypt morphed into a linear script and stories, like fanciful tales of adventure to the mystical land of Punt (an actual trade location near the Red Sea) were written. So when your characters make references to people they admire, abhor or whose actions they are inspired by, are these references mythical, historical or fictional?

The Arts

Do roaming bards sing of the past, or bands of musicians travel? Or do the rich act as patrons to orchestras or bands? Will we find musicians serenading a feast scene, or are their marching bands in your world’s parades?

Do painters and sculptors have patrons who supply their materials? And perhaps provide them with board and meals, in exchange for favourable art of their patrons? (Like in Rome?) Or are the arts valued and paid for as civic entertainment by a republic or oligarchy, like in ancient Greece? Or can only the ruling class afford to employ artisans to build monuments, paint frescoes and proclaim their patrons beauty and great deeds to the world? (As was the case in ancient Egypt, where the arts differed in style and some critics would say degenerated in skill when the kingdom wasn’t united under a single ruler).

Will we see actors in your world? Are they travellers moving from inn to inn, or from one wealthy home to another to perform?

Do the arts portray and reinforce the values, ideals, myths and heroes of your cultures or their rulers?

Sciences

The meaning of the word ‘Science’ may vary a lot in your civilisations, depending on which era of scientific understanding or Dark Age superstition they parallel. But there are two areas of science I think very relevant to world-building —medicine/ anatomy, and natural science.

Anatomy

Human knowledge of what various internal organs are for, how the body works and how to treat wounds may depend on religious beliefs in your world. The belief in ancient Egypt that a physical body was required to house the spirit of the deceased meant important organs required to sustain life needed preservation after death. Dissection and mummification taught the Egyptians that the heart causes blood to circulate through the body and the basic functions of the lungs and kidneys. But they believed the heart was the body’s centre of emotional feeling and the seat of the mind, lacking an understanding of the brain.

So if your culture practices mummification or permits autopsies, does your world have at least a rudimentary understanding of most organs? Does it know that losing too much blood is fatal?

If you have a Dark Age civilisation where study of the human body is banned, you might have absurd notions like those of medieval Europe/ Roman hangovers. For example, that the four humours –blood, bile and white and black phlegm must be equally balanced for good health. Or that getting leaches to feed on the blood of a sick person will ‘purify’ their blood and ‘make them stronger’ (as oppose to weaken them from blood loss). If it suits your plot for people to die of medical complications/ suddenly, ignorant, superstitious beliefs and traditions about the body could be a handy plot device/ killer.

Medicine & Medical Procedures

Again, depending on how enlightened your civilisation is, some medical conditions may not plague characters as much as you think. For example, in ancient Sumer (a civilisation that began around six thousand years ago in modern day Iraq), physicians could remove cataracts. They had the knowledge, tools and skill (but alas not the anaesthetics). Your civilisation may be able to perform simple operations on people. But medical procedures may require a blow to the head or strong alcohol, if the opium poppy or its equivalent isn’t known/ doesn’t exist as an anaesthetic.

Whether soldiers survive battle wounds may depend less on medical procedures (stitches etc), and more on knowledge of hygiene. If, like medieval Europe your culture lacks Rome’s custom of bathing (or worse thinks water makes you vulnerable to sin), doesn’t keep wounds clean, or use alcohol for sterilising them, infections may be the biggest killer of soldiers after wars or of injured workers.

Medicines & Herbs

I mentioned opium already. It might be worth researching real-world herbs used for poultices, healing teas etc. Do women or ‘witches’ administer herbal remedies? Or is there an educated, enlightened society that trusts nature and researches it, studying anatomy and reads books to obtain medical knowledge?

You may have other plants which are useful too. As an Australian, I’m aware that the eucalyptus gum when crushed and inhaled can make it easier to breathe with asthma, or a cold. I was surprised to find eucalypts growing in Vietnam, where the Vietnamese use its oil for all sorts of things, including insect repellent. What medicinal or other uses can people put plants to in your world?

Another thing to consider is medical treatments that are the only known cure for an illness, but have disastrous side effects. Mercury is effective in treating syphilis, but not only can it kill you because it’s poison, it can also trigger hallucinations and delusions. Meanwhile, many plants are effective cures in small doses, but poisonous and even fatal in large doses, another plot device for accidental deaths or murder.

Religion & Culture

Carved, circular yellow pillars rising to slabs with painted hieroglyphs inscribed on their underside beneath a clear blue Egyptian sky.
The Temple at Karnak/ Thebes, Egypt from my 2009 travels.

The first thing I’d consider about religion in a fantasy world is the role it plays. Is religion just collection of creation myths no one pays much attention to? (Like one civilisation in my Ruarnon Trilogy). Do people give offerings to the gods of the house, inanimate objects and abstract principles, and pray to them for guidance (as in pagan Rome). Will people try to divine the future from the stars, flights of birds or goat’s entrails? Does religion otherwise have little impact on daily life?

Do people in your world believe divinities, demons or magic are responsible for scientific occurrences they do not understand? Eg. pestilence, natural disasters, crop failure, human sicknesses? Is religion in your world an attempt to explain gaps in human knowledge?

Does religion mean ancestor worship? Or worship of the spirits believed to inhabit all natural things or of a pantheon of gods? Is any civilisation arrogant enough to proclaim they worship the ‘one true god’? Is anyone disaffected and atheist? Or do they accept that gods creating the world is a likely enough explanation, but see no divine impact in the world ever since (deist)?

Are differing religious identities a cause of war in your world? Or is it like the pagan world, in which each culture excepts that the others have different names for the sun god? And have different traditions and stories about the sun god, but everyone accepts that there IS a sun god? And he doesn’t have a dogma so no-one kills anyone in the name of dogma?

What is religion’s relationship with morality?

Does it have one?

If you have a pagan civilisation, ‘good religious practice’ may mean making offerings to the spirits as you trespass through their forest/ stream etc. In the western world, it wasn’t really until the last two thousand years BCE that personal religions, saviour gods and the idea a god had moral standards they expected you to adhere to personally A, existed, and B became popular. So while we may see religion and morality as inextricably linked today, they weren’t always, and they may not be in your world.

Does religion in your world have doctrines, and dogma?

Can people be shamed and publicly shunned for their ‘sins’? Can they be stoned to death or burnt at the stake as a heretic? Do people live their lives in fear of the judgement of a jealous, angry god who may send them to hell? Or do they have spells or means of tricking the gods who judge them, to avoid a second death and enter the afterlife (as they did in ancient Egypt)? Does religion prescribe what role people will play in life by gender or social caste? Does it suppress certain sexualities? Is it used to oppose racism or bolster it? Does it oppose slavery or legalise it?

Or do people have loose moral beliefs associated with their gods?

Do people try to live up to these beliefs to get closer to their god, and hope that will unite them with their god at death? (Like the mystery religions of western antiquity which often involved saviour gods, resurrection etc.)

Religion and the State?

What is religion’s relationship with the government? Do you have priest-kings, like the earliest civilisations of the ancient Near East? Or a Pope-like figure vying with medieval kings and queens to dominate hearts and minds and govern the life of a continent? A theocracy? Do priests/ diviners/ fortune tellers advise the rulers of your world?

Christianity dominated the west utterly for centuries, but at times South-East-Asia had Hindu rulers, a Buddhist empire and now it’s largely Muslim. A transition between religions may be a fascinating time to set your story. And like South-East-Asia, you could have two or more prominent major religions in one region, at the same time.

What is Religion’s Relationship With Science?

In ancient Greece, religion was fairly liberal. Worship of an entire pantheon of gods flourished alongside the birth of scientific study and theorising. The first theory of the atom was produced and the first rudimentary steam engine invented, though never utilised, because slave labour left no need for it. But even the ancient Greeks had a notion that the gods only wanted humanity to know so much. It tended to be philosophers who, when they questioned too deeply about the gods, were charged with ‘corrupting the youth’ (like Seneca) and censured by the state.

Christianity was more extreme, early Christians burning the greatest collection of literature in antiquity (the Library of Alexandria in Egypt). Even the bible was written in only Latin for centuries and only ranking members of the church were permitted to read it. (Yes, I blame Christianity and its mindset for the European Dark Ages as much as the fall of Rome). To what extent does religion ignore science, contradict or smother it or sponsor an intellectual dark age in your world?

Or do your gods intend for humanity to learn and develop? (Which is considered the path of salvation in my Timbalen Empire). If you have a pantheon, is for example, study of botany considered a form of respect, even communion with Mother Earth? Do learning and respect for divinities go hand in hand in your world?

History & Religion?

What does history say after your world’s religious creation myths? Does religion agree with history, or re-write it to conceal a rival religion/ sorcerous power/ a sect dismissed as heretics? Or did someone use religious texts to calculate that the world was 4000 years old and argue history that disagreed should be discarded?
If your world has more of an ancient leaning, its culture may not have a clear distinction between history and myth or between science, religion and magic.

The Culture of death

Is there an afterlife? If so, how is the body prepared? Is there mummification? Do mortuary practices return the body to the embrace of a mother goddess via burial? To the sky gods via exposure? Or carry its embers to the sky gods with smoke from cremation?

If there is mummification, is it common to visit the site with offerings to nurture relatives in the afterlife? If cremation (or mummification because this did happen in Egypt in Late Antiquity) is the urn or mummy kept in or near the house so the deceased can partake in or witness family activities?

Or does the spirit of the deceased (as in Tarlah in my Ruarnon Trilogy) transfer to an image of the deceased by a ritual performed by a priest?

After death, can the deceased be prayed to for guidance? Or for the comfort of the mourners?

What’s the Afterlife Like?

If the deceased go to an afterlife, is it heaven? Hell? Or will the spirits of those judged by the gods as unworthy suffer a second, eternal death and be fed to a monster, as in ancient Egyptian mythology?

Do they ascend to the Pole stars like the Egyptian pharaohs (in one tradition)? Or join Re on his celestial journey through the sky to light the world by day, and through the underworld by night? Do warriors go to an eternal feast with the war god, as the Celts believed? Or can you envision your own afterlife inspired by any or none of these?

Does the deceased (as many ancient cultures seem to have believed), have the same social standing in the afterlife as in life? Or is their equality in the afterlife?

Is the deceased united with their deceased loved ones and a god or gods in the afterlife?


This is the last of my blog series on Worldbuilding. I hope it’s been helpful! If you missed any, they’re linked below.

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Further World Building Reading

Power & Conflict considers types of government, religious, technological or advisory powers, rebels and the ways any of the above could contribute to conflict in your world.

Geography considers how geography may influence everything from general and defensive architecture, to water supply, heating, farming and how geography may connect to religious beliefs, sacred spaces and magic.

Humanoid Life offers suggestions on physical things like clothing, food, work, pastimes, family life, legal status and opportunities may differ among social classes and offers food for thought on sexual and gender diversity.

Where Fantasy World Come From, a multi author interview on what inspired their fantasy worlds.

Fantasy Author Feature: Nikky Lee

As as an Aussie YA Fantasy author on Twitter, it didn’t take me long to bump into fellow Aussie and SFF author Nikky Lee. In this interview, Nikky tells us what draws her to writing YA, what drives her characters, the real-world influences on her world-building, and what she hopes readers will gain from reading her work.

Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing? 

Hi, I’m Nikky. While I was born and grew up in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country, I now reside in Auckland in Aotearoa New Zealand. I write all things speculative, from dark and epic fantasy through to dystopian futures, space opera and the occasional piece of horror. I also write a mix of short and long fiction. 

Outside of creative writing, I work in marketing as a communications and content specialist for a market research agency. So anything with words usually goes through me, whether it’s a report for proofing or blogs, case studies, website copy and so on. 

When I’m not writing, I’m an avid kayaker, swimmer and coffee lover.

What drew you to your genre/audience age?

I’ve always loved speculative fiction, I grew up with Narnia and Star Wars and those cemented my love of the genre. If it had magic or space battles I was there for it. As for writing short fiction, that development has been relatively recent. For the longest time, I struggled to write anything that wasn’t novel length. My ideas were too big and sprawling (and still often are). Then I stumbled upon a prompt for a submission that really sang to me and I thought I’d give it a go. From that I discovered short fiction is a fantastic way to experiment with style and tone and ever since then I’ve been hooked on writing short stories in addition to longer works.

What are some big themes your writing explores?

In my debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar, the theme of what makes a monster a monster is very prevalent. Along with themes of friendship, found family and not judging by appearance or heresay. My shorter works have examined heaps of other themes, such as climate change and dealing with loss and grief (Dingo & Sister), corrupt people and gods in power (The Dead May Dance), and letting go of a loved one (Ram’s Revenge), to name a few. 

What drives your point of view characters? 

Cover of the Rarkyn's Familiar. A large winged, bird-like monster with a glowing red and glowing white eye flaps above a young woman carrying a sword and wearing a brown cloak.

Good question! I’ll limit this to the characters of The Rarkyn’s Familiar as it’s my best known work so far. For Lyss, she’s haunted by the murder of her father and wants nothing more than to bring those responsible to justice. She’s practical and full of grit and determination to get what she wants, but the trauma she’s experienced has really shaken her. She’s often afraid and is constantly fighting to not succumb to that fear. However, once she meets Skaar, her priorities quickly shift to survival. 

Skaar is the other main POV in the story, as a non-human character his worldview is different in many ways to the likes of Lyss and other human characters and yet surprisingly similar in other ways. Like Lyss, he has past traumas that haunt him. But after several years imprisoned at human hands, the tantalising hope of freedom is what drives him, along with the desire to survive.

How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you? 

Hmm, this is a tough one. There’s a lot of me in Lyss, and I’ve taken inspiration from some of my personal journeys, particularly my mental health journey, to tell Lyss’s story (more about that here). There might be a bit of trait admiration at play as well where I give my POV characters traits I admire—resilience and resolve being chief among them, as well as a willingness to strive for might seem like impossible goals. 

And there are probably resemblances that I’m not even aware of that only someone who knows me could spot. Stubbornness might be one 😉

Which real-world influences have contributed to your world building?) 

In the case of The Rarkyn’s Familiar, its world building was inspired by a lot of fantasy that’s come before: Robin Hobb, Tamora Pierce and Hayao Mizakai’s Princess Mononoke for their fantastical creatures and immense landscapes, as well as Kentaro Miura’s Berserk, which was my first foray into grimdark fantasy and inspired elements of the Empire’s corrupt nature. I’ve blogged about it in more detail here.

Countless visits to the South Island of New Zealand has helped me dream up my mountain settings. As for the society and culture of the book, a couple of elective units in medieval and ancient history came in handy 🙂

For my other stories, Dingo & Sister was primarily inspired by a trip across the Nullarbor, an arid plain in Australia between Perth and Adelaide. Unbelievably hot (something like 47 degrees celsius outside) and red red sand. For other story settings, particularly those set near the coast, I’m lucky to have an abundance of water activity experiences to draw on (surfing, snorkelling, fishing, sailing and so on) from a childhood spent camping and holidaying all over the Australian coastline.

What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them? 

First and foremost, I write to entertain. My stories are a form of escapism for me and, I hope, for my readers too. While my work can delve into some heavy topics and I’m conscious about how I portray certain topics, I’ll prioritise entertainment over social commentary (though that’s not to say you can’t have both!). However, if I can make my world and characters feel real in the mind of my reader and sweep them away into lands of magic and wonder after a hard day at work, I consider that a win. 

As for what I gain from writing, it’s mostly escapism, as I said earlier. But on occasion writing has helped me process something from the real world, be it a personal fear, an event, an issue I’m wrapping my head around, or a notion I’m simply coming to terms with. For example, Ram’s Revenge was a story that was partly me coming to terms with the fact that my grandmother wouldn’t be around for much longer. Of course, I usually don’t realise it at the time, only when I look back at it later. 

Where can we find your books?

You can find my books online wherever good books are sold. 

The Rarkyn’s Familiar store links.

Dingo & Sister store links.

Author Bio

Dark haired, blue eyed nikky, pale skinned headshot with a big smile.

Nikky Lee is an award-winning author who grew up as a barefoot 90s kid in Perth, Western Australia on Whadjuk Noongar Country. She now lives in Aotearoa New Zealand with a husband, a dog and a couch potato cat. In her free time, she writes speculative fiction, often burning the candle at both ends to explore fantastic worlds, mine asteroids and meet wizards. She’s had over two dozen stories published in magazines, anthologies and on the radio.

Her short fiction has been shortlisted six times in the Aurealis Awards with her novelette Dingo & Sister winning the Best Young Adult Short Story and the Best Fantasy Novella categories in 2020. In 2021, she received a Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. Her debut novel, The Rarkyn’s Familiar, was released in 2022 and is the first of an epic fantasy trilogy about a girl bonded to a monster.
You can connect with Nikky on: Facebook Instagaram Tik Tok Twitter

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Related Reading

You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspirations in:

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

Writer Pantser Interviews

My Fantasy Feature Author Interviews of:

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA Fantasy & SciFi)

Mara Lyne Johnson (Comedy SciFi)

Natalie Kelda (YA SFF)

Living With Long Covid -My Experience

I’ll preface this blog by saying I’m one of the lucky ones. I kept working. Full time, while living with long covid. And I am, (over one year+), still getting better. Many aren’t so fortunate. Yet the difference between my long covid experience and many people I know who got covid but not long covid is huge. In short, they got sick for a few days or a week and maybe skipped gym for a fortnight. I spent eight days in bed, then aged around thirty years (for six or so months). So how did long covid change my body, mind and life?

It Was Hard to Tell At First

Four days before I tested positive to covid, I’d been recovering from a chest infection. Both illnesses put me in bed for eight days, but it was easier to breathe with covid. And the splitting headache and scratchy throat faded in just three days. It didn’t seem as bad as the chest infection. Lying in bed, I was capable of reading books and didn’t feel too bad. Then I tried getting up and was completely out of breath having walked around ten steps to the kitchen to get food. I remember leaning on the bench to catch my breath and not being able to consider why I was in the kitchen until I’d caught it.

Showering was tiring, especially drying myself, which also left me breathless. Finding the energy to climb out of bed and walk a few steps to the armchair at the end of my bed and sit up while eating dinner (with my feet up) felt like an achievement. My body ached and felt as heavy as lead. I concluded that I only felt ‘fine’ while sitting still and spent eight days lying or sitting still as much as possible.

Disclaimer: I don’t remember the first three weeks after testing positive very well. My brain fog was so bad, my lucidity so absent that I wandered about in a disorientated daze, acting out of habit and instinct, not consciously, nor properly thinking about almost anything.

I’ve Aged Thirty Years

But I have a job and need an income. And I’d never experienced anything that took such a physical toll on my less than forty-year-old body before. A chest infection in 2019 took around three months to fully recover from, but I didn’t realise covid had hit me harder until I returned to work. The short walk from my car to my classroom had me puffing like a steam strain. Manually opening four blinds in the classroom had the same effect, with loud groaning from the physical strain of opening each blind. Sitting in my teacher chair as much as possible, and minimising time on my feet was clearly key to making it through the work day and the work week.

I teach small groups of children sitting on the floor. So every time I got up was around a thirty or forty second procedure of careful leg positioning, using my hands to support myself and load groaning. Getting up off the floor was hard. I’d aged. Still, I taught Reading and Writing. Then it was lunch time. And I was so tired I was ready to go home and sleep. But there was still three hours of teaching left. And a one-hour staff meeting after that.

By Thursday, I had to cut explicit teaching short in the third or forth hour of teaching, because my brain suddenly melted out of my ears. I was modelling short division. Its a multi step process, but suddenly I didn’t know which step I was on. Or the step I’d just modelled. Or the step that came next. My brain just shut down and I didn’t know what I was doing. This remained the case for the forth hour of teaching onwards on a Thursday, and Friday for several weeks.

My body wasn’t what it was. My mind wasn’t what it was. I felt like I’d suddenly aged thirty years mentally and physically.

My Long Covid Body (weeks 1-3)

During that first week back at school, I slowly realised that my body was remaining heavy. My movements were always slow, and awkward and my limbs just didn’t move properly. Explicit teaching and anything that required any physical strain at all, like getting up after sitting on the floor, unstacking the dishwasher or walking twenty steps continued to make me very short of breath. By 4pm my body would start to shut down. If there wasn’t a staff meeting, I’d leave my classroom messy, not look at what materials tomorrow’s learning required, drop everything and go home to bed.

By the end of my second week back at work I was managing to start some of the paperwork I had to get done after teaching hours. On days there was no after-school meeting. My body was still shutting down by 5pm and I was still spending each night lying in bed for a few hours, before dragging myself out of bed for a shower and dinner around 8pm-9pm.

My third week back at work I somehow worked till 6pm for two nights to finish that after hour’s paperwork. And went straight to bed every other night. I was very proud of myself for getting the paperwork done, and in hindsight not properly conscious of my poor physical state.

Long Covid Brain Fog (weeks 1-3)

I mentioned above that my physical movements were awkward and clumsy. My brain was mentally the same. I was delighted to discover that as an experienced teacher, I had an autopilot for not just the dozen or so most common things we do on a daily basis in teaching, but more like the thirty most common things. I could run my classroom moderately well on auto-pilot. Thank God for that! Because my brain fog was so severe that if I had to run that classroom fully conscious of every decision I made as a teacher every moment of every lesson: I wouldn’t have made it through the first hour of my teaching day, let alone the next four.

Things I was not mentally capable of included: problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making (unless I could default to prior experience via mental autopilot), focusing on more than one thing at a time, and thinking beyond that one thing I was doing. Mentally, I was barely fit to teach. But the thing I struggled more with is that I simply couldn’t write. Making sense in social media messages and posts was the limit of my writing ability. Forget blogs like this one, forget author newsletters or short stories. As for my second novel, for which I’d sat on feedback from critical readers and been waiting for work to calm down for three months so I could edit it? Now way Hose! Fiction writing was cancelled until further notice.

Staying Positive

I’m very glad I had that severe chest infection back in 2019. I’d done the whole, ‘But I’ve been sick for a week, why am I not getting any better? When will I get better? What if I never fully recover?’ thing back then. I knew that my chest was weak, and if a chest infection could set my body back for three months: covid would knock me out for at least that long. So I celebrated my body aches ceasing. I celebrated being out of my isolating sick bed, out of bedroom confinement, being able to talk to housemates and my students face to face and enjoying social company again.

Oh, My Body is Still Fucked

By the end of my second week back at work I’d gone an entire month without exercise. As someone who normally runs 4km four nights a week, and prefers two to three-hour long walks on weekends: that was an eternity. Spring weather was improving, and there are some lovely sunny tracks in nearby mountains that I was only halfway through exploring. I’d managed to drag myself up the stairs to the summit at the end of my eight days in bed with covid, so surely I was ready to go for a decent length weekend walk again? NO. I. Was. Not.

I had to take the start of the walk slowly because the uphill slope was hard work. But my legs were craving every step. My respiratory system craved being pushed to work even a third as hard as my pulmonary system seemed to have to work just keeping me on my feet. And by the time I’d reached a high point in the mountains, overlooking gum trees and boulders and paddocks below and beyond, I felt great! Exercise is SO important for my mental and emotional wellbeing. Its something I have always found incredibly freeing, and being physically fit and strong has always helped me to feel empowered and capable as a person.

That’s why I was able to walk far enough that I had stabbing pains in my left shoulder. Pain perhaps akin to heart attack pain. I slowed right down. I dawdled for forty-five minutes longer than I should have walked at all, because I had to get back to my car. Monday at work was ok. Tuesday was meetings all day. By Wednesday my lower back was inflamed and sensitive to the touch. Standing was painful and uncomfortable. Sitting was worse. I couldn’t lie down without taking painkillers.

Elise's feet and legs as they lie down in green, grassy lawns before a row of gum trees at a local park. High rise appartments in background, bright sunny sky.
A really flattering selfie ? of the first time I managed the 15min walk to a favourite local park of mine. Naturally, the first thing I did having made it was lie down. I had to sit and rest several times during that walk.

Physical or Mental Health?

By Friday of my third week back at school I was off work, in bed and on prescription painkillers (I saw my doctor a few times around then). It took three days in bed for the inflammation to go down and to downgrade from prescription to non-prescription pain killers. I was taking those non-prescription painkillers for a week and a half. It seemed that the physical exercise I longed for and craved was more than my covid weakened heart and body was capable of. But I was now at a critical juncture.

I mentioned above that physical exercise is freeing, and being physically capable helps me feel capable and contended full stop. It’s what regulates my usually highly energetic body and helps me sleep at night. If I was going to recover from covid, get back into a normal sleep cycle and rest properly, I HAD to get back into exercise. My physical health needs were at war with my physical health needs.

And that wasn’t the only battle. By this stage I’d been sick for four weeks. I’m a very resilient person. I’m also quick to smile, quick to laugh, likely to see beauty in things and normally an excitable and enthusiastic person whose mind operates at an average speed of a hundred miles an hour. When I’m sick, I’m none of those things. My mind was slow, dull and at partial, extremely limited operation. And I felt FLAT. So emotionally flat. I wasn’t sad or depressed. But smiling and laughing took so much energy. I just didn’t have the energy to be emotional —good or bad. Happiness was beyond me —until I got my energy back.

Past Experience Helped

I’d been there before. During that 2019 chest infection (in New Zealand, where no friends or family could visit, cheer or help me in person) I’d realised that the only thing standing between me and depression was exercise and my beloved great outdoors. I’d dragged myself out of bed for a half hour walk through a reserve of beautiful ferns and tropical rainforest, through which bright sunlight beamed and beside which a creek flowed. For those precious, hard earned, fleeting moments each day I was happy. Exercise and the great outdoors gave me a reason to wake up each morning (or to wake up and not cry because I had another day of being severely ill and alone to endure.)

So with Long Covid, the solution was obvious: push my body. Find out exactly how much exercise I could do without giving myself a heart attack, how often and do it!

The Physical Battle (weeks 3-7)

It may not surprise you that by week four of long covid I was not ready for physical exercise. In hindsight, I wasn’t really ready for a 20 minute walk two or three times a week (on work nights). I was gasping for air and hit by chest pains after 500m. I was also physically tired and walking hunched, being overtaken by an old guy who was hooked up to oxygen tubes -I shit you not! That’s when I conceded that ‘exercise’ was too lofty an ambition. That all I could aspire to was getting out of bloody buildings, for a breath of fresh air and a moment to feel the breeze on my face and assure myself that the in-accesible world of the outdoors still existed and would wait until however long it took for me to inhabit it again.

So I did a painfully short, 750m walk down the round, round the field then back home three times in week four. My chest and back pain gradually receded. The next week (week 5) I extended my walk to 1.6km and a little garden beyond the field. That went well for two days, so I went further along the track near the garden, walking slowly 2.6km. Then temptation struck again, and on Sunday I walked the full 4km loop to cross a river I hadn’t reached on foot for two months. I felt fantastic! This was actual physical exercise! And it was clearing my brain fog, and energising me! For an hour or two afterwards, I actually felt like myself again!

I Got Carried Away

I did the 4km river loop twice more that week, after work. Naturally, I got chest pains and had to take painkillers and not walk at all for the last two work days of week six. Ok, ok, fine then body! I’ll limit myself to half an hour’s exercise three work nights a week and only one longer walk on the weekend! (A concession that in hindsight was still too much.)

But how to remove the temptation of walking too far? I turned to a short loop with no longer options, a mostly flat route, without the stairs that had given me grief in the mountains. And for three weeks I only walked locally, only short distances. And conceded that up to four weeks after having covid was too soon to realistically expect to return to exercise and that the best I could do now was stretch my legs, get fresh air and enjoy the sun and wind of my face and watch the birds chitter and dart through the bushes as I walked past.

The Turning Point (week 8)

From weeks three to six, it was hard to tell if I was getting physically or mentally better, or if some symptoms subsided while exercise attempts flared others. And work got busy or I got tired at times and missed one of my half-hour walks, so it was hard to gauge if I was getting physically fitter or stronger. Until school holidays. I spent around three days lying in bed. Then for the next week, week 8 since I’d returned to work, I’d go for a 1-2 hr walk in the evening, after spending the day lying on the couch.

Those long walks and resting before and after them were the turning point. After the first two-hour walk my head was clear and I felt energised for the next four hours. I upgraded from social media posts to writing newsletters, editing blogs and by the Wednesday: writing a full chapter-length bonus scene for my debut YA Fantasy novel.

By Wednesday, the brain fog and fatigue didn’t return the day after I exercised. It seemed that going for a second walk within twenty four hours of the first kept both at bay. I would get tired. And I still had to sit comfortably resting for much of the day, but my body and brain ceased reaching a point where they shut down and I had to go straight to bed each evening. I began fiddling about on social media and authorly jobs until 10pm (as opposed to 7pm in recent work weeks).

I was Back!

The proof came when on the Friday, after three months of being too sick to be mentally capable, I returned to editing my second YA Fantasy book. During week nine since having covid, I smashed through eleven chapters of edits. By Friday of week nine (mid October), I went for my first run since June. Like my first mountain walk after having covid, it was probably fuelled almost entirely by restless energy, exercise cravings and a massive endorphin hit. My second attempt to run the same 4km loop around the river in week 12 saw me jogging slower than walking for the last half, and my blood sugar so low I had desperate sugar cravings and was jittery and giddy by the time I got home.

The Way Forwards (3.5 months after catching covid)

I’m still not the 36 year-old I was before having covid. Interestingly, with my returned mental energy and the return of my ADHD tendencies, I’m more distractible and require higher levels of stimulation than I used to. Week 11 was my second back at work this term. I had to be careful not to mentally wander from meetings, and have accepted that 2-4km walks three times a week after work and a 1-2 hour walk on the weekend is the most exercise I can do, after the rigours of a work day/ week. Running is off the cards after work until January (summer holidays [or so I thought back in Sept 2022. Over a year since I got covid I still can’t run -Aug 2023].

While my brain fog appears completely annihilated by week 8’s exercise [it wasn’t. It came back mid-term], I can still get physically and mentally tired and require more rest from the same workload than before I got covid. I often wake with an aching chest on a Saturday morning, after a busy week, especially if I sleep poorly. Perhaps every second Saturday I mainly lie in bed doing nothing in anyway mentally taxing, to let my body and brain recover from a busy working week. And while a busy term four often requires me to work on student reports till 6-7pm (having started work at 8am), I’m tending to lie in bed after that (and after my walk ?).

But I’ve been working till 7pm at times with only tiredness, not mental or physical shut downs or strong fatigue determining my work hours. 76 year-old me has pissed off to the future where it belongs, and I’m back to 36 year old me, with twenty something-year-old mental energy, still fighting for my full exercise, strength and physical capacity. (I hope to be running 4km four nights a week again in January, six months after I got covid. Hopefully carrying the shopping for a 5min walk home will no longer require a lie down to rest and recover either).

*Week 15 Since Testing Positive Addendum

Chronic pain has been back all week. The only potential ‘over doing it’ thing I did was a one hour shopping trip on a Friday night, meaning one hour less rest after a busy working week. I’m not even sure that’s why I’ve just woken from 13 hours sleep on a Thursday night, and am off work today having worked only two days this week. Clearly my covid recovery is not linear, and will have ups and downs and periods where my body demands extra rest just to function normally again. My hard fought for fitness remains, but it seems that those later work hours are more than my body can keep up with and that pacing myself at work remains crucial.

One Year on: 2023 Addendum

The above was the beginning of another big chronic pain, fatigue and brain fog slump that would last from October 2022 right through to mid January 2023. Only a five week summer holidays and a gradual return to walking to rebuild my fitness brought a permanent end to my brain fog. I had another chronic pain and fatigue relapse for three weeks in March, then two months of pain after a chest infection that put me in bed for three weeks beginning in July. My doctor has warned that I may have fibromyalgia as a result of long covid (a chronic pain illness for which there is no cure), or an autoimmune disease as a result of long covid (again, no cure.)

I’m on my third doctor since I got covid, having ditched the first two when they tried to tell me my chronic pain was depression (and ignored all my other symptoms and the fact covid kicked them all off). By the time I had a decent doctor I was already taking vitamin supplements my mother’s doctor had suggested for covid, and found epsom salt baths and magnesium supplements helped ease my chronic pain. My new doctor tested and found I had low iron and B12 in December 2022, and that helped my Dec-January pain and fatigue recovery. I’m still taking all of the above supplements.

Its been a year, and I still can’t run. Every illness and extended period of rest sets back my fitness, meanwhile the kind of exertion needed to rebuild my runner body’s muscle tone seems beyond my heart’s capacity. I get too short of breath/ weak/ chest pain and have to take walking easy, while jogging even slowly feels too strained. I still get short of breath carrying the shopping too. But its only pain and shortness of breath relapses I have now, temporary lethargy or tiredness replacing the fatigue (most recently only after I got sick with a head cold virus then chest infection).

One Year & 1-2 Months On

Pacing remains important to me. Not too much work a day, or across the week. Resting on weekends, and if its a bad pain day, week nights. My strategy with managing student reports and time consuming after hours jobs as a teacher is becoming get as far ahead as I can and stay ahead. Assume I can’t work more than 8am-5pm (ideally I’ll work till 7pm weeknights for 3 weeks to get students reports finished on time), and just do a little bit of the big jobs, weeks ahead, each week night.

Pacing is also likely to be crucial if I return to running. I felt great in September and managed to run at least 3 days a week for 3 weeks (walking the other days as my stamina drastically decreased from 1 run to the next). During the third run I had a flare of nerve pain in my upper back that lasted 3 weeks (only the nerve prescription from my doctor and extended rest the first week of school holidays ended it.) So if I’m to return to running, it might be 30 mins, 3 days a week, as opposed to 1hr 4 nights a week. And possibly run week and just power walk the next.

I figured out the above from my pattern of chronic pain and fatigue, which normally hits around week 7-8 of term. My pain, later accompanied by fatigue, seem to be triggered by my stamina falling to the floor during and since Long Covid. My doctor is now very close to confirming that I now have fibromalgia (a chronic pain illness) as a result of Long Covid. The ‘treatment’? Pain killers (one terrible night’s sleep can see pain outstrip them, as this week is proving), and… pacing myself. Life now is definitely about determining how much I can physically manage and how much rest my body can’t function without.

Thankfully though, my brain has been fully itself (ADHD and all ????) since January. Having a clear head makes it a lot easier to manage a body that tends towards greatly reduced physical capacity, giving it the rest it demands to function.

I’m still somehow teaching full time (have been since I got covid, though I got wise when I got sick in June and took 2 weeks sick leave, then had 2 weeks holidays and by second week of the next term was doing well). I love teaching and my kids. But if my health remains in this state, I can see it forcing me to cut back to part time work by the time I hit 50, and then into early retirement (55?). Teaching young kids is too physically demanding for a body in my state of health to manage as it ages.

A Final Note

A final note: I still teach and shop wearing a mask. I feel uncomfortable being in the same room as more than one other person if I’m unmasked. The prospect of having to go through all of this again (let alone having a worse second experience of covid) is unthinkable. My mental health is better off not thinking about it, masking up (N95!) and avoiding crowds as much as possible.

Thanks for sharing my covid journey with me! I hope your covid experience(s) is MUCH milder and you recover far more swiftly (and completely) than I did!

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Related Reading

If you suspect you or someone you know may have long covid, here’s some information and general advice on managing symptoms from the not-for-profit HelpGuide.

Personal posts are something I’m publishing occasionally when I think I have something significant to say. Other posts I’ve written that tick this box are my experiences of:
Identifying as Nonbinary

What Pride Month Means To Me

Identifying as having ADHD

Managing my Neurodiversity.

World Building: Power & Conflict

When I develop ideas for a new fantasy series, I think first of the overall conflict, the positions the point of view characters occupy in their world, what forms of power they wield, and what role they can play in the story’s epic conflict. (Yes, I very approach this from an epic fantasy perspective, so you may need to adapt how you apply these ideas). In discussing power and conflict in world building, I’ll walk you through my thought process of identifying multiple forms of power and influence various characters, traditions, international bodies and more your world may contain and help you start thinking how these may impact on your story’s conflict.

Power and Tradition

Approaching world building as a history major, I’m very much aware of the contribution tradition can make to the status quo. So how much weight do societies in your world give tradition? Does it determine whose head of households? Or people’s seniority based on birth, or skills they utilise in the home and or village? Does tradition govern gender expectations? Are attitudes towards people of different skills, social classes, nationalities or religious beliefs determined by tradition? And what are the social and political consequences for anyone who defies traditions?

Specific Traditions

Is government based on traditions of patriarchal or matriarchal dynasties? Does your world include regional governors or nobility who inherit their positions due to traditions of feudalism/ monarchy/ imperial rule?

Do traditions protect or prohibit slavery, serfdom or indentured servants? Does it preserve a hierarchy of increasing privilege for a few elites, or equal rights and or opportunity? Are rights equal and opportunity available to everyone, or just people of certain skills, abilities or political, religious or magical status?

Is there a tradition of Elders or Town Councillors gaining status via their life experience, and local or cultural knowledge? Does tradition determine who teaches the young in the village/ family about their people’s ways?

How does tradition impact on foreign relations? Does it promote fair trade and treating foreigners as equals, or is it imperialist, viewing foreigners as inferiors or worse as subhuman?

In what ways do traditions in your world benefit or disadvantage each member of society? eg. who has the road of least resistance to career choices and positions of power, the path of least resistance to personal and social content, and how has tradition shaped either path?

Resistance

If tradition, whether by social class, gender, religion, foreign conquest or other disempowers any one group, do they organise? Do they gather and form a resistance? To whom or which interests do such groups appeal? What resources, knowledge and experience do they gather? How much power do they have? Whom do they wish to improve life for, and what forms of persuasion and or power do they wield as they seek it? How does tension between resistance groups, people who are neither resistance nor in power, and people in power play out?

Two long-necked, wide-winged birds locked in aerial combat above the sea.
Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Power Through Religion

What’s the power balance between religion and the state? Do priests advise the ruler/ government? Does organised religion have its own rival agenda to politicians? Or do you have a theocratic government?

Are gods a real, physical presence in your world? How does their presence increase or decrease the power of their ranking and ordinary followers?

Republics

Whether a region of your world is small (eg. a city-state), or whether its intergalactic, is there a republic? And if so, is there radical democracy like ancient Rome, where any ordinary citizen can be elected to a council which passes laws, determines policy, declares war etc? Are their gender, religious, social status, ethnic, national, magical or other limitations on who can be elected to a democratic body which governs people?

Is there a tendency for a certain social class (perhaps a wealthy or well resourced one) to dominate the elected governing body? What tensions does this cause within the government? What tensions does it cause among the governed? Eg, do government policies tend to favour people of a certain rank, or who inhabit certain regions, and neglect others? Is it all about exploiting the regions, the outer territories/ outskirts of the empire for the good of the imperial capital/ centre/ planet?

Regional Power

Are some territories in your world wealthier? Are some militarily strongly or technologically better equiped? How do differences like these influence the balance of power across continents? Is there an empire or colonial power who dominates wherever they travel? Do some rulers greet each other as equals, and are some client rulers to more powerful rulers?
Are some countries dominating trade and or control of natural resources? Are there countries with failed governments who cannot control their borders, and are being exploited by other powerful countries, or criminal organisations?

How do differences in power between cities, or countries, foster international co-operation (and between who and excluding who)? And between which countries do power imbalances generate tension and lead to war (hot, open war or cold by proxy or guerrilla warfare)? And should war beckon, which geographical entities will ally with whom, against whom?

International Bodies

Political

Was there a time when multiple nations had cause to unite with a goal of protecting human rights across nations/ countries/ continents/ galaxies? Is there an international body representing people of all countries —a U.N. equivalent? What kinds of decisions is it authorised to make? Does it have a police force? An army? A judiciary? Is it symbolic and paying lip service to international values, is it hindered by powerful countries or other entities, or is it the greatest power in your world? What powers does it have -if any- over individual countries, and what tensions and conflicts of interest can this result in?

Religious

Do religions have international organisational structure? Is there a hierarchy and any one place considered to be that religion’s capital? Is there a single person who heads any one religion? What influence do religious organisations wield internationally in your world? Who funds them? How well resourced are they? Do they come into conflict with, are they endangered by or a threat to any particular country or group within it?

Magical

Is there an international magical or technological body that governs magic and or technology? How it is organised and where is it based globally/ galactically? On what terms is it with each nation? Are their nations who fear and reject magic or technology, and who refuse to have anything to do with such an organisation? Can its members be hired out, to work for countries or groups within them? Whether that’s legal or not, does it still happen?

Organised Crime

Is organised crime limited to cities, and countries or do some crime groups organise, resource and expand to the point they become international organisations? Are they in conflict with particular countries or authorities? Eg. a country’s government, an international body, or a particular religion?

Power Through Magic

Is a person’s magical ability what determines their status, legal and other privileges in life? Do you have an institution which trains people in magic? Is it controlled by politicians or religious authorities? Or is it autonomous?

Are powerful magic wielders pawns of the state, privileged state employees, or did they rise up and seize power for themselves? Or can everyone wield magic of some sort? Do the government and police have magic wielders among them, and is it an aid, and or cause/tool of warfare and conflict?

Power Through Technology

Do you have an empire with chariots, bronze suits of armour and iron weapons fighting naked soldiers armed with weapons of wood and bone? Bronze armour combating catapults, long bows and iron armour? Or higher tech vs. low tech? Does technology give a particular kingdom or empire the advantage and lead to attempts at a mass expansion and conquest or colonisation? Does space age tech lead one particular nation or group to dominate space colonisation in any region of any galaxy?

Power To Influence Through Advising Decision Makers

Having written a main character whose a ruler, I’m very aware of the importance of these side characters and their influence on events in Umarinaris, my fantasy world. So does anyone in certain positions have the respect of their people and or leaders? Do magicians advise rulers in how to combat magic? Do physicians or healers advise how to combat plague? Is there a person in each household versed in basic first aid, and homemade cures consulted for medical support? And in any of these situations of advising and influence, do any of these people exploit their position or distort advice they give to pursue their personal interests?

Masters

If your world has slavery or servitude, how much power does your legal system grant masters over slaves? Can they beat them? Kill them? Is the latter a crime? Is the penalty for killing a slave merely a fine (as it often was in the ancient world)? Are slaves well treated and considered part of the family, or are they mistreated and likely to seize the first sign of family weakness to escape, or rebel?

Same question for servants -are they treated with respect, decency and loyal to the family they serve? Or do they serve with resentment, fear or anger? How does this impact tension or conflict in your fantasy world?

Educators

Who educates the young? Are the children of wealthy people privately educated by scholars? Are schools open to all children, or —if you have a more Bronze Age civilisation— is literacy only required for people working for the government, and do only the children of the ruling class go to school? As I suggested in the Tradition section above, is it stories by Elders or certain members of the family who teach most children how to behave and the ways of their people?

Privately or publicly, who are your educators? Scholars? Governesses? Priests/ priestesses? Do they have political or religious teachings, or do they encourage the children they educate to decide for themselves which side they think is ‘right’ in societal, political, racial, religious or familial disputes?

Allies

Whether your main character is a servant or works for national government, do they have allies? Is it a single person of the same status and power? An organisation? Individuals of different rank and power within the same government/ kingdom/ organisation? Do alliances threaten or force power structures in your world to adapt? Whether that be a middle class allying with people of higher political or religious rank to campaign for more rights, or international alliances ganging up on another country or forcing an international body to make concessions, or even going to war with it. And do allies continuously support, or splinter off and become enemies where conflicts reach a point when point when their goals and or needs differ or conflict?

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Further Reading/ Viewing

Just in case I haven’t given you enough food for thought, here’s some more world-building blogs.

Geography considers how geography may influence everything from general and defensive architecture, to water supply, heating, farming and how geography may connect to religious beliefs, sacred spaces and magic.

Humanoid Life offers suggestions on how physical things like clothing, food, work, pastimes, family life, legal status and opportunities may differ among social classes and offers food for thought on sexual and gender diversity.

Cultures asks probing questions about The Arts, Science, Religion and death.

Six Sources of Conflict for Your World gives you more ideas on what people in your world may be fighting about.

Where Fantasy World Come From, a multi author interview on what inspired their fantasy worlds.

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