About Writers, world-building, writing technique

How much world?

Alex’s Sci-Fi World by Matt Schaefer

I don’t write, or even read, much sci-fi, but I do have a trilogy planned that takes place on another planet. I don’t know if it qualifies as sci-fi since the inhabitants are as human-like as hobbits and face very human problems. Really it’s just an excuse for me to give free rein to my imagination by writing a story about humans without the constraint of respecting earthly reality.

But of course they inhabit a world which has other constraints, so I’ll have to decide how much of that world to describe. In other words, the world-building issue. We always have it, but a story set on earth can rely on shared assumptions about how the world operates. Not so on another planet, where we can make the world as we want, but then we have to replace those unwritten assumptions with explicit information. What will my inhabitants eat? How will they dress? Travel? Communicate? What are their towns and cities like? The list is almost endless.

Here are a few thoughts on the matter from some proper sci-fi writers:

Alastair Reynolds. My approach to world-building is a bit smoke and mirrors – there’s only as much as you need to carry the story. I think of it as one of those sets they used to have for cowboy films: the facades look good, but if you walk around the back, it’s all props and plywood. I don’t want to sound lazy, but I want to do as little as possible. I don’t need to know how the sewage system works to tell a story about someone on another planet.

Nnedi Okorafor. My stories tend to start with the characters. Then I look through their eyes (or however they “see”), minds, perspectives to observe the world. Typically this happens the moment the character exists. So I know the world not long after I know the characters. I walk through it, I smell the air, listen to the gossip, observe its insect world, hear its history through various perspectives, and so on … I experience it.

AnnLeckie. I try to choose details that are real – the whole of human history and culture is fantastically varied – and that seem to fit together. In real life, cultures and histories are full of things that contradict each other. There will be one common narrative of how things happen, how people live and eat and so on, but people won’t actually always do things that way. I try to include such moments, because it makes my world more three-dimensional. I also leave some things unexplained or just referred to, as though the world is much bigger than just this one story and won’t all fit in the pages.

Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t like the term world-building. I’d say there’s no such thing – it’s a term out of a vocabulary that grew in writing workshops to help writers talk about the craft of fiction. But the writer should remember that these diagnostic terms are not what the reader feels while reading: the reader reads in a kind of dreamlike state in which the events of a story really happen. So the writer should focus on somehow forwarding the story. That’s the only imperative: make that “willing suspension of disbelief” go into action, and take the reader away.

These are just excerpts – the full article is here. It’s given me some useful pointers on how to set about it. But I’m sure you have others – whether you write sci-fi or not, how do you build your worlds?


Stories from the Golden Era of 2021

This is a time when people are separated only by thin monitors, information is but a Google away, and anybody can publish anything for immediate world wide distribution. 2021 is a golden era for writers. There are many possibilities -right now- to write the best your heart and mind can produce.

Pandemic-Flavoured Fiction (of course)
Ordinary people around the world are caught in an extraordinary disaster that threatens their health, their livelyhood, and those they love.

Science that goes, “Oops!”
Think everyday life descending into technological mayhem. 2021 is seeing tremendous advances in artificial intelligence, Mars exploration and genetically engineered “cures.” What can possibly go wrong?

Start with detailed world building and add in any manner of creatures with human foilbles, their romances and power games -who doesn’t enjoy escaping into the world of a good fantasy these days?

We love riddles and who-done-its bring out the best collaboration between the writer, the characters, and the readers. A good crime story is a masterpiece to pass on.

For horrifically great ideas, read the news.

Diversity Stories
Stories by writers who live on the same planet but in different worlds are a refreshing reality-check.

We who live in the Covid benefit from laughter. We who recognize madness find buffoonery cathartic. This is the time for new writers inspired by the insightful humor of Douglas Adams, Erma Bombeck, Mark Twain, Wanda Sykes, Woody Allen, Dorothy Parker, Garrison Keillor -hell, pick one and get busy writing. We need you.

This is no year to waste whining about anything. This is the year to write your best.


Writing and Research

by Michael DiMatteo

It’s easy to fall in love, really it is. Just find something that steals you’re heart, something your passionate about, and the rest takes care of itself. Simple, really. The part that’s hard is finding that something that steals your heart. As a writer (I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with that moniker as Hemingway, Dickens, Flaubert were writers – I’m more of a scribbler of thoughts and a wayward story teller), there are slightly less than a million ways one can go in search of something that truly pilfers your thoughts so thoroughly there is no recovery.

Most of the time I sit and pound away on my keyboard writing random thoughts, political meanderings that sometimes get published in Realclearpolitics (no, not a shameless plug, maybe), or begin stories that eventually peter out as a Chinese gong fades after the initial blow. They languish in my “bits and pieces” folder, frozen in time as Han Solo maybe to be revived at a later date, but more than likely not. They didn’t plunder my being and like a sometime lover, I got tired of them and simply left.

Then, on some Saturday morning, I sat down with my 6AM coffee to write as is my usual routine. For some inexplicable reason I told myself I was going to write a historical fiction novel – just like that – and then, again for some inexplicable reason, it poured out of me as an African cataract bounding over the cliffs in the southern Nile. I sat for two hours and wrote as though she, Apollonia Savucci, was speaking to me from a grave. I say “a grave” because she was an apparition from my mind. I have no knowledge if anyone by that name exists or existed, but whoever she was, she was speaking to me. I wrote down what she said, how she described losing her love to the plague in 14th century Italy and how she’d never recovered, her soul so damaged she had to flee the only home she’d ever known.

She began telling me about her distant family, where they came from and what they’d endured, and like an obedient servant, I wrote it all down. I found that I’d not been aware of some of the circumstances she was relating to me so I had to do some research. The more I researched the more besotted I became with her and her story, a story emanating from someplace deep in my subconscious. So, I researched location, weather during certain times of the year, food eaten, how people lived and what their homes were actually like. I discovered an entire world of the past this history teacher of over thirty years didn’t know existed. I became an archaeologist of time, brushing off an ancient world in a given space and age that once again became alive if only in my mind and on my computer screen.

I dug further and disinterred other families of power and influence during the period. I unveiled intertwined religions, and found that the tentacles of Italy stretched far further with greater influence than I’d ever thought. I found knights long dead coming back to life, and fictional characters interacting with them in ways I’d not imagined. I found people in love betrayed, and exposed heroism, all traits that existed then and now but with new life breathed into them by my fingers and keyboard.

I dug further. What did olive trees smell like? I found pictures of these places, now ruins but put back together by my imagination and by contacting professors who specialize in the time period. I reached out to a former student now a professor of Islamic history at UCLA who was more than happy to lend his expertise. He also gave me names of others who helped as well. I “cold emailed” a professor at Northwestern University who responded filling in a blank I had. I emailed others who didn’t bother to return my query – but no matter. I was, and am, undaunted. I was being eaten alive by this beast I’d unleashed and was loving every minute of it.

Volume one is completed. Revision has begun, beta readers have also been given copies. So far, the reviews are solid and the suggestions great. I’ve begun implementing some of them during the revision process and while I want it to be perfect, I know it will never be. There will always be something I can add, some other flavor to sprinkle in order to tantalize the readers’ tastebuds, but at some point, I’ll have to release the work to the greater world – or the five people that may choose to read it willingly. That’s ok – it’s the process not the result for me.

I’ve fallen in love with this world that once was and is now being recreated in historical fiction style. I’ve fallen in love with the process of writing and research. My heart has been stolen, my thoughts dominated by my work. None of this is to the detriment of my job for I have students counting on me each day whom I will never let down, but increasingly, I am losing ground to my writing. Good thing I retire next year.


That Novel I Mean to Write

Some novels simmer until, I dunno, something happens to spark them into being or nothing ever does. My simmering novel is about life as a medic during the Vietnam War. I thought I wanted to write about serving on the Intensive Care Unit at USAF Hospital Clark in South East Asia for a year and nine days – a record, the previous holder had been sent home strapped down to a stretcher. Me, I got tired of blood dreams and walked into the hospital commander’s office one morning over the objections of his secretary and plopped into the chair next to his desk. Luckily, Colonel Hernquist had people skills. He looked up from his paperwork and asked, “What can I do for you son?”

I told him who I was, where I’d worked for how long and that I was not going back there.

“Where would you like to work?”

“OB. It’s full of life.”

“Report to OB in the morning.”

I thanked him and left. (A year later, I was rousted out of a tent early one morning in Kwangju, South Korea -the North Koreans had just stolen our spy ship, the Pueblo. Me and three others were stood in a line and up walked some general officers and the Secretary of the Air Force, Harold Brown. Harold pinned some kind of medal on me “for saving lives, etc. while at Clark.” So, that year and nine days had been time usefully spent.)

The stories never go away. Hence, the simmering novel. Not just about the grisly but very much about how we coped. I ran with two other medics and we coped -well, probably the ways young men and women have always coped with casualties of war. Here’s one true example:


“I was taking a guy to x-ray in a wheelchair. Shot-up, just off a medivac. We go by the gift shop and he says, ‘Stop! See that nurse? I want to eyeball-fuck her.’” He shrugged. “I stopped.”

“Who was she?” Captain Kelly asked with bright humor in her eyes.

“Jenkins, from O.B.”

“Oh. That didn’t take him long then.” She turned serious. “I understand. You see death, you want life.” She pushed her chair from the table and looked at the floor while she sucked in a breath. Then she stood. “Back to it.”

He took in the blonde walking away. Kelly was on the dialysis team and regularly watched young men die because their kidneys had been left on the battlefield. When she was on call at night, Captain Kelly was notified by waking the doctor on call that night. He shook his head. Would he ever meet another woman he could tell this story? She would have to be the woman that Captain Kelly was.


Last week, my lady picked up the ringing phone and looked at me. “Do you know a David Miller?” And suddenly I was back there, in Clark Hospital in 1967. David Miller was one of the two that I ran with. He’s suffering from Parkinson’s now but his memory is sharper than mine. His wife found me and with her help, we are going to write some of our stories.


Hemingway Said Write the Truest Sentence That You Know

Howcome I can’t tell you 

in simple, direct words 

the meaning of everything 

without you staring blankfaced 

or rolling your eyes? 


The meaning of your life is this: 

find meaning & live it. That’s it. 

Prance a little before you corpse. 

Life is sentience & sensation. 

Nothing more. 

Nothing less. 


As to everything else 

cosmos & the void— 

we don’t know enough yet 

to ask the right questions. 

But note: we keep probing. 


In the meantime 

indulge in the ecstasies of art 

good food, drink 

a friend, mentor or lover who is fully present 

the steadying, stalwart companionship  

of dogs.  



what more could you want? 


Notable and Noted

The Writers Co-op and Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine each began as an idea posted in a talented Internet group. As Curtis Bausse noted in the first Co-op blog, “Here We Are,” five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a Penguin Books website where writers posted their work for peer review and critiques. That was April of 2016 and here we have posted blogs by writers every week since. Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine began with a suggestion posted in the Sci-Fi Roundtable group on Facebook in 2019, and last week it took third place in an old, respected, literary poll as the best fiction magazine. Internet groups are the best thing to happen for networking since speech.

Not to McLuhanize this, but the learned gentleman long ago pointed out that electronic media not only speeds up communication but it also breaks populations down into smaller groups. Finding writers by their genre is easy in a world where Facebook has a group dedicated to collectors of garage door openers.

As a writer, what groups have you found to be helpful in your writing life?


The Silk Thief – Cover Reveal

By Claire Buss

I am delighted to be invited by GD Deckard to post here at Writer Co-Op – thank you! I am a fantasy and sci-fi writer who enjoys a good book and a slice of cake. For my first post here, I’d love to share the details of my upcoming book, The Silk Thief.

Cover design by Ian Bristow

A humorous urban fantasy novel, The Silk Thief is the second book in my Roshaven Series. Here’s the blurb:

Fourteen, heir to the Empire of Roshaven, must find a new name before Theo, Lord of neighbouring Fidelia, brings his schemes to fruition.

Not only has he stolen Roshaven’s trade, but he plans to make Fourteen his own and take her empire in the bargain.

Her protector, Ned Spinks, is plagued with supernatural nightmares whilst his assistant, Jenni the sprite, has lost her magick.

Can they figure out how to thwart Theo’s dastardly plan before it’s too late for his city and her empire?

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY: mybook.to/SilkThief

Release date: 4th June 2021

The Silk Thief is the second quirky magical mystery adventure set in the Roshaven series of humorous fantasy novels. If you like the wit and humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, then you’ll love The Silk Thief.

More about the Roshaven books.

The Rose Thief, The Roshaven Series book 1

Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses and if they take the magical red rose then love will be lost, to everyone, forever.

It’s up to Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, and his band of motely catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day.

But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be. Neither is the Emperor.

Ned and his team will have to go on a quest; defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/bQaxw6


The Interspecies Poker Tournament, Prequel Novella to The Rose Thief

Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, has a new case. A murderous moustache-wearing cult is killing off members of Roshaven’s fae community. At least that’s what he’s been led to believe by his not-so-trusty sidekick, Jenni the sprite. She has information she’s not sharing but plans to get her boss into the Interspecies Poker Tournament so he can catch the bad guy and save the day. If only Ned knew how to play!

Available in paperback and ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/m2Vk0R


Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, a Roshaven short story

Join Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, and his sidekick Jenni the sprite in this short story about an unwanted magick shoppe.

This free short story is available in ebook everywhere: https://books2read.com/u/4XXPw1

What Readers Say

“Loved the quirky banter!”

“Entirely delightful and captivating.”

“A wonderful tribute to the Late Great Sir Terry.”

“If you are a fan of the discworld you will love this book.”

“A hilariously thrilling fantasy mystery.”

About the Author

Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

Social Media Links

Facebook: www.facebook.com/busswriter

FB Group: www.facebook.com/groups/BussBookStop

Twitter: www.twitter.com/grasshopper2407

Instagram: www.instagram.com/grasshopper2407

Website: www.cbvisions.co.uk

Blog: https://www.butidontlikesalad.blogspot.co.uk


A New Year, A Clean Sweep, All That.

It’s a new year. I’m in a mood to organize my life. I’m cleaning the kitchen as I rarely do. A few poor spiders have had an unpleasant time of it today. They’ve wobbled off in a panic. They can return to a clean home when they’re ready.

We don’t kill spiders in this house. My husband is very pro-spider. They kill other bugs, other good things. Can’t think of what they are right now, but I’ve had that drummed into my head.

I’ll cleaning up my desktop, trying to weed out duplicate files and move my many projects to two 64-GB sticks that will hold all or most of my data. I have all but the latest Maisie stuff saved on eight or nine lesser-capacity thumb drives, but I want my files ganged, easier to locate.

I’ve having problems moving them. I keep getting an error message: Error 10006. The transfer stops dead in its tracks. I don’t know what 10006 is. I’ve googled it and I still don’t understand. But I find that if I do a few files at a time, I mostly manage.

My major time periods that I write about are the late sixteenth century and nineteen-twenties/thirties Broadway and Hollywood. I have gobs of files dealing with both eras. I’m forever grabbing interesting bits of information. Only yesterday I found this:

“When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony.” – William Powell on working with Myrna Loy.

Isn’t that marvelous? Maisie works with William Powell on several films. They had a special relationship (according to her). I can see Powell saying that about my mouse, who adored him, by the way.

In terms of research, sometimes I have a specific goal in mind. Other times I just grab, sure I’ll find a use for it sooner or later. I have a file on the history of shoulder pads. I’d like to get at it. I added it into something else and failed to resave and rename it.

Wallace Beery, I have a file on him. He and Maisie were also good friends. Beery was Gloria Swanson’s first husband. How did that ugly mug win goddess Swanson? She was just starting out. He was already a huge star. Swanson may have seen it as a smart career move, who knows?

The problem with gathering new information is that I have ‘Maisie in Hollywood’ built as a 48-page book. I have art laid in, and areas set aside for art-to-come. The type is tightly structured with wrap-arounds and section breaks at strategic spots. I’d like to add recently discovered material, but I don’t dare. To mess with it may be big trouble.

I can’t see reducing the art. I have a lot of type and I want to break it up with a major image on every double-page spread. I am trying to trick the reader into thinking there isn’t so terribly much text. I don’t know if I can slip that by, so I want to make it as much fun to look at as I can. The story is my usual arch nonsense, not remotely for children, although it’s about a mouse, her tale told in prose . . . and in paper dolls.

I’m down at the moment. Not because of the above, because of a bad back and bad knees. And there’s the political climate, and the Covid. But mostly because of the back and knees. I’m over the hill, I’m afraid. I used to look forward to a new gardening season. Now I dread it. In the garden last summer is how I hurt my back.

Who’s optimistic for the new year? Tell me about it.


R.O.I., Anyone?

It’s a business fact that if you have a product that is known to sell, you can find salespeople willing to sell it on commission. A new book by an unknown author has no such track record. Book marketers are not willing to work on commission when they have no reason to believe that their efforts will result in enough sales to be worth their time. That is why they want to be paid up front. Regardless of results.

Traditional publishers know this. They sell books first and then pay the author royalties based on book sales. Any advances given by the publisher are paid back by the author from royalties earned by the author. Publishers keep their eye on their R.O.I. -return on investment.

The Internet sparkles with schemes -er, sorry- ways for an author to sell their books. None of them, to my knowledge, work on commission. None of them work at all. Am I wrong? Has any author paid for book marketing and received a return on their investment? I’d love to know, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.


Yuletide 2020

Various Northern Europeans, Germanic peoples, Neopagans, LaVeyan Satanists, and American Shoppers have long celebrated the last week of the year in honor of the Wild Hunt, the god Odin or his modern variant, and, the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht.

The latter included sacrifices, a fitting practice for 2020. We’ve sacrificed family gatherings, nights out at our favorite restaurant -which itself may have been sacrificed- attending churches and synagogues, the cinema and major sports events, and shopping malls. And travel. Many have sacrificed their job or their business; some, their homes. Not to mention the darker sacrifices of 1,700,000 lives this year. If the new vaccines do not control the new virus variant now in the United Kingdom, then we will have sacrificed our sense of scientific control over the natural world. And that puts us right where our ancestors were this time of the year.

Our ancestors celebrated life in a world they only hoped was rational. This year, regardless of our individual beliefs, we will do the same. My lady will spend a couple of days cooking a Christmas feast that we two will sit down together and enjoy. That is celebration enough, in 2020.

What are your plans for the Holidays?