Question time: how many platforms should authors have to promote their books?
Answer: it’s up to the author, and what you’re comfortable with. But whatever you do decide to do, make sure to do it well. It’s better to have two or three channels that are updated frequently than six or seven channels that you barely use.
My book, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, officially launched in June 2020. To prepare, I had my newsletter with a growing number of subscribers, a Facebook page that was active and updated often, and my website. I was comfortable with those channels and didn’t particularly see a reason to add anything else.
Then my brother, who works in marketing, suggested I add Instagram to my repertoire. I dug my heels in at first. Social media engagement doesn’t come naturally to me, and I’m much happier lurking on all these different platforms, rather than engaging with them. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it and didn’t really see the point of adding another platform.
But then a conundrum that I was facing became apparent. Most of the people following me on Facebook were friends and family. It was very difficult to reach out of my social circle without paying for ads, so the reach I had was limited.
I revisited my brother’s advice and took a closer look at Instagram. Finally, in August last year, I bit the bullet and started a page. And boy am I happy that I did!
Just like with any social media platform, Instagram has different communities where people with like-minded interests can gather and peruse each other’s content. There are audiences for cooking, home improvement, cats, dogs, and of course: books!
The book community, affectionally referred to as Bookstagram, boasts tens of thousands of user who are exceptionally active and engaged. It’s a thriving and supportive community of book lovers who share their interests and favorite reads. Since joining Bookstagram, I’ve made friends with people around the world and added more books than I will ever have time to read to my To Be Read (TBR) pile.
The platform is wonderful for many reasons. From a reader’s perspective, there are recommendations galore, beautiful bookish posts that draw the eye, and honest reviews of the hottest picks. If you curate your followers well, you can build a nice bubble of like-minded readers who also enjoy the same genres as you.
So here’s the thing: Bookstagram is a fantastic resource for readers, therefore, as an author, you can leverage the platform to reach an audience of hungry bookish individuals in the specific niche that you write in. With a little time and effort, you can build an audience that has an interest in your specific genre and market to them over time. As well, you can exponentially increase visibility of your book, meet with other authors in the same genre as you, and help find ARC readers for your next bit hit!
Here are a few things to keep in mind when starting your bookstagram, and tips on building engagement.
Learn how to use hashtags
First thing’s first: Instagram’s main draw over other platforms like Facebook is that it uses hashtags, like Twitter. Unless you specifically set your profile to ‘private’, your content can be viewed by anyone, without needed to be ‘friended’. This means that users can tailor their feed by subscribing to specific hashtags, or using said hashtags to find people sharing the content they want to see more of.
For example: someone interested in bookish things can follow #Bookstagram, which is a high-volume hashtag with billions of tagged photos. Now let’s say you want to see bookish content, but only for fantasy books. All you need to do is add in #fantasy.
By appropriately using hashtags on your images, you’re increasing the likelihood of reaching an audience that is interested and already engaged on the specific topic you are promoting. Not to mention that by following these hashtags yourself, you can connect with readers and other content creators in your genre, and maybe find opportunities to collaborate.
Instagram only allows you to use 30 hashtags per photo. This may seem like a lot, but it’s fairly easy to use them all up quite quickly! So choose carefully.
Engage with your audience
Posting a well-curated Bookstagram feed is one good step in fostering engagement and building a following. But what really makes a difference is how much you engage with other people. This means one of two things: either commenting on other people’s photos, or responding to comments on your own.
The more you engage with other users, the more likely it is they will follow your page and engage with your own content. And that, more than anything, is what you want on your page. It’s one thing to have a ton of people following your page. It’s another thing entirely to have an engaged audience that interacts with your content.
In the fight between having a large following or an engaged audience, always opt for an engaged audience. A large audience that doesn’t interact with you isn’t worth much, and won’t help you in promoting your book.
Participate in engagement-building activities
There are plenty of opportunities to participate in engagement-building activities that allow you to meet awesome people around the world. Some are public, some are private, and some ask you to forward information.
Personally, I prefer the public ones, also known as follow loops, follow chains, or follow trains. Whatever the name attached, those are where I have met the most awesome bookstagrammers and have made the most friends.
Not all engagement-building activities are built the same. I’ve found the ones where I was invited to join in complicated follow chains to be largely not worth the effort, and not resulting in any actual engagement.
Ultimately, you need to decide what types of activities you enjoy the most and stick to what you feel most comfortable with. I regularly participate in, and host my own follow trains. It allows me to gain and meet bookish users, interact with an already engaged audience, and helps from an analytics point of view, to ensure my content is seen by the people I want to see it.
Plan your content, post frequently
The one downside (or upside, depending on how you look at it!) of any social media platform is that you need to make sure you post frequently to stay relevant. The more you post, the more likely it is people will interact with your page, and therefore the more likely that you’ll continue to be featured in people’s feeds.
When you create a Bookstagram account, I highly recommend that you pick a ‘creator’ account. It comes at no additional cost, but the major benefit is that it allows you to see your audience insights and see when your following is most active. Pick the three or four most active days, along with the times where your audience is most active and keep posting religiously.
It might seem like a headache, but the more frequently you post, the more likely you are to stay relevant. I find it helps to plan my posts in advance so I’m not scrambling at the last minute.
Obviously, there’s a whole lot more that goes into managing a bookstagram account than what I’ve included here. But consider it a baseline of knowledge to start from! And hey, if you do end up on Bookstagram, make sure to give me a shout.
Do you sometimes read a story, and even if the story isn’t all that great, you continue chugging along because the characters are interesting, quirky, or worth the trouble of continuing?
There’s a notion in writing that stories should be character-driven. This means that the decision of a character should be the driving force of the narrative, and not the other way around. The only caveat to this example is fantasy, where the type of story inadvertently means that the story is narrative-driven. A young farm boy wouldn’t try to usurp the king unless he found a dragon egg. And a young girl wouldn’t bring down a whole empire unless her sister’s life was at stake.
See the difference?
Either way, whether your story is plot-driven or character-driven, your characters and their choices will either make or break your story. This is why character development is important. Your character should be a different person by the end of your story, than they were at the beginning. The degree of change is up to you, the writer. But typically stories that have stagnant character development have simple storylines that won’t keep the reader engaged. Let’s look at some ways to make your characters feel real, while also avoiding typical clichés and other writing pitfalls.
Overthink your character
Firs thing’s first. As the writer and creator of the character in question, you can’t write well about any character in your story until they are fully fleshed out in your mind. What is their back story? How many siblings do they have? What is their favorite meal? Do they have any allergies? What is their greatest fear?
Overthinking your character isn’t in the sense of the physical: that they are tall and spry, or short and stocky. When I say overthink your character, I mean the essence of them as a person. Before writing a character well, they need to feel real to you. They need hopes and dreams, and fears and passions. They need to have a childhood that defined them for better or worse. They need motivation for what they are doing. A character should feel so real by the time that you start writing that it feels strange to write something that they wouldn’t agree to if they were standing next to you. When you write about your characters, it should feel more as if you are channeling their voice and personality instead of your own.
Which characters do I need to do this for?
You might not like this answer, but… you should do this exercise for as many characters as you can. Certainly your protagonist and antagonist. And then everyone who is a tier-two character, has a chapter from their point of view or appears relatively often.
You never know when any of these characters will suddenly become more important, or if their role will become more defined. If you already have their story mapped out, then that’s one less step for what you need to do later. It might even help prevent you from writing yourself into a corner.
And another thing: write each character as if they are the protagonist. Because in that secondary character’s mind, THEY are the hero of their story. How would that impact the main storyline? If there is a character who is egotistical, then it stands to believe that they would get in the way of the protagonist. Or even the antagonist, who certainly sees themselves as the center of their narrative! Writing each character as if they are the main character of the story is a wonderful opportunity to bring up knots of tension with other characters, deviate from plans and showcase some really great development, even from secondary characters!
Make the danger as great as the goal
In most stories, characters have one goal or another: get the girl, find the treasure, slay the beast. The goal needs to be clear in the character’s mind, and therefore, easy for the reader to understand. Now, what’s important is also that the forces that oppose the goal are as great as the goal itself. What will be interesting for the reader is to see how the character gets out of it – if they do.
Make your character be perfectly imperfect
Perfect characters are boring. Characters who are good at everything are boring. There’s no tension, no drama, the reader isn’t sitting on the edge of their seat wondering if the character will live or not. Your character (and the story as a whole) should be challenged, and they should also fail.
Frodo seems a steadfast hero in Lord of the Rings: selfless and somewhat immune to the effects of The One Ring. Until he isn’t so immune anymore and faces difficult decisions that contradict what his increasingly warped moral compass are asking him to do. The realization that he might fail in his mission keeps the reader invested in the outcome. Heroes can be steadfast, and strong, and brave, but they should also have flaws: impatience, a tendency for the dramatic, or have some sort of other Achille’s heel that gets them into trouble.
Give them an internal and external struggle
When I was working on Lily’s character in The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, I wanted her journey to cross a whole emotional spectrum. Her external struggle seems simple enough: find out what her real identity is, and why she lost her memories. But her internal struggle is the flip side of that coin: does she really want to find out? Her dread and excitement at finding the truth behind her past and newfound power ebb and flow in the book, until she needs to decide what is more terrifying: the repercussions of ignoring her past, or the erosion of her identity.
Remember: characters are people, after all. And people are flawed. The more intricate and well-developed your characters are, the higher the chances of your story having a strong narrative flow.
As the air outside gets colder, and windows begin to glisten with an effervescent sheen of frost on them in the morning, it can only mean one thing.
I will start wearing gloves and a hat to type, because it’s cold as **** outside. Also, winter is coming, and all the darkness with it. The bright side is the pretty lights, the Christmas tree, and general Holiday cheer in the air. Even with the… circumstances…that we are living through in 2020, there is still reason to celebrate and be merry, even if it’s from six feet apart.
On to the good stuff. You may have come in possession of an author recently. Maybe it’s a friend, a partner, a child, or a colleague. And you may be wondering how to make their day. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place! Authors aren’t really that complicated. All they need is a bit of love, some caffeinated warm drink, and long stretches of silence. But there are absolutely ways to help them as they fledge into their final author form and grow as writers. Here are a few easy, simple and cheap ideas on how to make an author’s day.
Buy their book
This point may seem terribly obvious, but buying an author’s book is a great way to encourage them to continue writing and working on their passion projects. It’s also a way to achieve rankings on Amazon and other book-seller websites.
Authors spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours poring over their work, trying to catch every mistake, plot hole, and under-developed character before the book is printed. It has been re-read so many times by the writer that the words melt into one another and the story stops making sense.
So every copy sold, even if it’s bought by a friend or family member, brings a small ray of sunshine into the little author’s heart. And each copy sold brings with it the hope that more copies will be sold through word of mouth, until eventually complete strangers begin picking up copies of the book!
So, buy the book. It is the easiest way to support your author friend. Even if it isn’t a genre that you read, even if it will sit on your bookshelf for years. Buy the book. Don’t ask for a free copy. It invalidates the blood, sweat, tears and literal thousands of dollars the author may have poured into bringing the book to market.
Buy the book.
Buy the book for your friends
Good, so you bought yourself a copy. Now, consider buying it for your friends. Did the author in your life just publish an illustrated kid’s book? Buy it for the end-of-year raffle at your child’s day care.
Or better yet, get all your holiday shopping done at once and buy copies for all the children in your life, get them signed, and then be the cool person who brought signed books for all the kids. It’s a good look, trust me.
Buying copies for others is a great way to spread the author’s work and maybe inspire others to check their work. Your author friend will be grateful for the exposure, and for the thoughtful gesture! Not to mention, it might be the fastest holiday shopping you ever do.
Review the book
Authors have a fickle relationship with reviews. On the one hand, a good review can inspire another potential fan to pick up a copy and give the book a shot. On the other, a needlessly cruel review can drive potential buyers away and result in lost sales. But the worst is having no reviews.
Obtaining reviews is hard. Like, harder than writing the book. It’s the literary equivalent of pulling teeth.
Think of it, how many times have you reviewed a product? Yet how much do you rely on reviews when buying things?
There’s a reason authors are obnoxiously annoying about getting people to review their books. And it’s because every review counts. Every little star is worth its weight in gold, and helps bring the book one step closer to finding its way to another potential fan.
This is especially true for Amazon reviews. Amazon works with complex algorithms that are akin to magic. But they do bring people towards products they are likely interested in. Blame it on Big Brother, but the algorithms work wonders in making sure your target audience is targeted.
Thing is, these algorithms only work if the reviews are in. No one really knows what the ‘magic’ number is, what number brings you closer to having your book in a newsletter. But the general consensus is that reviews are good, and a product that has many good reviews has a higher likelihood of being recommended to audiences interested in the product.
So yeah, buy the book, and then review the book.
Talk about the book
So you’ve read the book, reviewed the book, and bought copies for your friends. What’s next? Now it’s time to talk about the book. Have you ever suddenly become interested in a movie or show because someone spoke about it? Same happens with books.
Sales and exposure are the two things that authors crave. And they work hand in hand. Have good exposure? You’ll probably have decent sales. Have good sales? It’s probably going to lead to more exposure. The effect is exponential. The more people are exposed to a product, the more likely they are to think it is good, and the more likely they are to give it a chance.
So go ahead. Share that book picture on Instagram! Recommend the book in a thread asking for good entertainment. A lot of times, authors take care of their own marketing, and it can be really, really heartbreaking when it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. So hyping up a book on social media is really the best way to help support your author friend.
And it doesn’t just need to be once! The effect is compounded: the more people who do it, and the more often, the higher the chances someone will stumble upon the book and like what they see.
So you see? Supporting your author friend isn’t complicated, and nor is it expensive! But each of these little things brings a lot of recognition and exposure to the author and will help them as they grow their audiences and flourish as a writer.
Interested in supporting an indie author? You can do so by buying my book The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past here! And don’t forget to review it once you’re done reading!
Great news! For a limited time only, The Sapeiro Chronicles, A Forgotten Past is ON SALE at the Kindle store for $0.99. Get yourself a copy, or better yet, get a head-start on some Holiday shopping and get a copy for the Fantasy fan in your life. It is reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, with a tinge of Hunger Games and a dash of Throne of Glass. A perfect holiday read!
Here’s what readers have to say so far about A Forgotten Past:
“When I say, I was hooked… I mean, procrastinate, stay up late, could not put it down hooked! Jumping into the Sapeiro world has been one of the best highlights of quarantine life. I need to know more; Lily is an amazingly written heroine who is both strong and vulnerable. I was kept guessing the entire book and NEED THE SECOND BOOK TO COME OUT ASAP!!!!! Highly Recommend!”
“Fast-paced story with lots of twists and turns. Very exciting read. Can’t wait for book 2.”
“A very well-written novel with an intricate story and surprising, unexpected twists! The author introduces a lot of different characters in this first volume, but still manages to establish each of their distinct personalities without entirely revealing their motivations; I found myself rooting for, suspicious of, or despising certain characters before I was even halfway through. The sheer scale of the world is also impressive; I felt like we only got a small glimpse of Sapeiro in this book, even though we’re introduced to many different places. Can’t wait for the second book to come out!”
Curiosity piqued? Here’s the blurb:
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who is supposed to be dead. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.
Maybe you have an idea for a story that’s been kicking around in your head, screaming to be let out, nurtured, and put on paper. It might have come to you just as you were falling asleep, or as you were on your fourth kilometer while jogging around the block. But now, it’s here and it isn’t letting you rest easy.
It’s time to write it down and make the jump from half-baked idea to a full-fledged narrative. Cue the sudden realization that writing a whole book is…well, it can feel overwhelming. The first milestone is hammering out that first draft.
Here’s where it gets tricky, and this is where a lot of fledgling (and even well-seasoned) writers get stuck: writing the ominous, terrifying first initial draft.
But how does one write a first draft? Surely there are steps that must be accomplished before sitting down with your hot beverage of choice, a solid amount of motivation, and a healthy amount of optimism.
I’m here to tell you that yes, yes there is. There are indeed many things to consider before putting pen to paper for the first time. Character sketches, maps, floor designs, plotting the narrative, story development are but a few things to consider working on before writing.
It may seem like a lot. Take a deep breath. Good. Now, here’s the question of the day for you: what kind of writer are you?
It may seem innocuous enough. And may also seem completely irrelevant to writing a first draft. But determining what kind of writer you are may help in figuring out what kind of planning you need to do before sitting down to write.
From my musings with other writers, I’ve noticed there are two overarching ‘types’ of writers: those who write without a plan, and those who write with one.
Both are equally good ways of writing a story. Personally, I’m a planner who writes. I don’t feel comfortable writing unless I have over-analyzed the whole world I’m trying to build. But Stephen King is perhaps the best-known writer who just writes, without tethering himself to a plan. And to give complete credit where credit is due, I think Mr. King has written enough stories at this point in his career that he can absolutely do whatever he wants.
Before sitting down and working on your story, determine which type of writer you are. There are pros and cons of each style, and becoming familiar with the pitfalls or advantages will really help determine how to approach your first draft.
The ‘just do it’ writers
These writers don’t plan. They have an idea and execute it as the story evolves in their minds. After a first draft is written, they reexamine their story and try to find common threads that can be tied together and exploited to strengthen the storyline.
The advantage of this approach to writing is that the absence of a plan can feel liberating. You can do whatever you want! Your muse will guide you! The characters will speak for themselves! The story may even feel more authentic because even you, the writer, are flying by the seat of your pants!
There may not be much room to plan in this stage, and so the prevalent concern is to keep writing. Not having a story outline may feel freeing, but the weight of the blank page staring back at you feels a lot heavier when you don’t have a captain to steer the ship.
What’s important to keep in mind when pumping out your first draft is that the quality really doesn’t matter much. The longer you stay stuck in a particularly knotty area of your story, the longer you’re ignoring the rest of the narrative.
And here’s where the downside of this technique comes in: when you don’t know where you’re going, it’s easy to get lost and lose sight of the big picture while you agonize over details. Or, even worse, lose motivation to write after you’ve written yourself into a corner and can’t see a way out.
For ‘just-do-it’ writers, it’s important to remember that what counts is to keep writing, no matter how thorny or difficult the task may seem. Things can be altered, and since you haven’t adhered to any firm plan, everything can be changed anyway. But the crucial bit is hunkering down and pecking away at the keyboard, stringing sentences together so they make sense.
A good tip to unstructured writing is to structure your time. Set yourself a goal for how long you want to write, undisturbed, and then stick to it. And no matter how eloquently the siren of distraction calls, keep your butt glued to that writing chair until you’ve completed the required time to do so. Best to fit it into your schedule, or risk being at the mercy of ‘inspiration’.
As a planner myself, this method is what I subscribe to and fully endorse. I’ve tried the unstructured writing, but to be completely honest, I find it stressful. So I’ve always over-planned my stories, going into the nitty gritty of character development and plot structure before ever considering putting pen to paper. I draw maps, sketch out characters, and concoct whole backstories for my main characters, including the antagonists.
The planning method of writing means exactly that: planning the nitty-gritty of the story, the narrative arc, and plot structure so you get an idea of the big picture before sitting down to write.
The advantage of the planning method of writing is that staring at a blank page isn’t as intimidating, since you already broadly know what you want to say. It’s just a question of how you want to phrase it. By breaking it up into little chunks, it also minimizes the burden of knowing you need to write a whole book, because you can take the story one chapter at a time. It’s a nice way to confidently chug away at the narrative that was oh-so-brilliantly charted out by a past version of yourself. This way, you can blindly follow along to the arc that was pre-determined and concentrate on throwing words on the paper.
The downside of planning so much of the story ahead of time is that it may result in the story feeling forced, or at some point the narrative may outgrown the arc you’re trying to force through. In these instances, it’s totally okay to switch up the plan you had on the fly and spend some time re-charting your course, if you know it isn’t going anywhere anymore.
So, what now?
Hopefully, by this point you’ve giving some thought to what kind of writer you are, and what steps you may need to take before sitting down and typing out the first draft of your masterpiece. And don’t forget, you are also free to combine the two methods to create your own hybrid version that works perfectly just for you! Nothing is stopping you!
When I was writing the first draft of my Young Adult Fantasy novel, The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past, I first spent countless hours delving into the culture, religion, and structure of the land. Then I agonized over character development and sketched out key locations. After that, I loosely plotted out what I wanted to happen, and used that plan to then section the whole novel into chapter blurbs. These chapter blurbs were the foundation of the first draft, and although the final result was immeasurably different from that initial first 50,000-word draft, sectioning it as I did helped in taking it one step at a time and, more importantly, see the big picture.
Few stories manage to fit in elements of romance, tales of myth and legend, terrifying beasts and a strong, bad-ass woman in the way that The Soft Fall by Marissa Byfield does. I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading her Young Adult Fantasy novel, which also has ever-so-slight elements of paranormal fantasy in it. It’s one of the most creative retellings of the werewolf genre I’ve seen in recent years. It will make you feel deeply for the main character, Dianna, as she navigates a whole new world of demons and beasts who’s intentions are unknown.
I could go on and on about the narrative arc and incredibly well-detailed scenes, but instead, I’ll turn it over to Marissa so she can tell you about it herself.
Marissa, over to you!
What is The Soft Fall about?
If you love Wonder Woman, Princess Mononoke, or Beauty and The Beast, then The Soft Fall is for you. Set in a fantasy world, it’s a retelling of the myths of the goddess Artemis and the imperial twins raised by wolves, Romulus and Remus.
Bitten by a wolf as a girl, the young huntress Dianna must do anything it takes to survive her oppressive village — even if that means trespassing the forbidden woods where the wolves roam. What happens next will bring the lives of five outcasts together and change the course of an empire at war.
I always joke that it basically started as an AU (alternate universe) fanfic of Greco-Roman mythology, but it is! With a twist of lycanthropy.
I’m fascinated by wolves and werewolves alike. But throughout myth and story, they haven’t exactly been represented in a positive or even neutral light. I know there are many readers who feel like once you’ve read one werewolf story you’ve read them all. And there are plenty of werewolves in romance or horror — but the fantasy genre is surprisingly lacking in them.
I always knew I wanted to write a fresh and more nuanced werewolf tale, and that started with thinking about things I didn’t like about existing ones, and how I could go about subverting them.
Instead of hierarchy, I thought, let’s depict wolf packs as they really are: dynamically structured, highly social and communal groups. What if there was a found family of werewolves who fought not for dominance, but against another territorial pack and hunters bent on exterminating them?
Instead of wolves being shown as a menace and a threat, let’s show how wolves are essential to the ecosystem. What if these werewolves had special powers over the earth?
Instead of werewolves symbolizing toxic masculine aggression, let’s explore werewolves as a symbol for the transformations of womanhood, including being caged and repressed by a society that calls you monstrous for the desire for bodily autonomy.
Dianna’s village calls the wolves “demons.” It begs the question: Who is the real monster?
What are you working on currently?
The Soft Fall is the first book in the Lunar Siege duology. I’m writing the sequel, Echelon Rising, which follows the pack as they seek to bring peace to the empire…but there are forces at play beyond their imagining.
Without spoiling you, the narrative is split between Dianna and Eccka. They’re two incredibly empowered women, and I wanted to get an even more intimate look at their thoughts, motives, and backstories. The Soft Fall was about finding agency, and Echelon is about taking control of it. There’s a war to be fought, fates of former characters to be revealed, and new characters to meet — including a warrior based on the goddess Athena, an alchemist who may hold the key to defeating the enemy, and (of course) lots more werewolves. I think there will also be more moments of humor and lightness than readers expect. Some character developments have been waiting in the wings a long time, and I’m so excited to finally visit those.
I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching battle formations and legionary strategies against the odds. Here in America we’re facing a dire political situation, and in addition to the pandemic, it’s given me a lot to process about how interconnected and volatile survival can be. My aim is to bring messages of perseverance onto the page, and hopefully bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.
Excerpt from The Soft Fall:
The first sensation was cold.
Its numbness embraced her, settled clean and raw in her lungs with her awakening breath. The sharp teeth of it needled at her nose and cheeks.
Dianna lay still, blinking. One by one, like flower buds unfurling in spring, each of her senses returned to life.
The silence was broken only by the faintest of sounds – the soft skitter of nocturnal animals, the tumble of melting snow from a tangle of branches, the wind’s dull susurration. She saw darkness above; white below.
She smelled the earthy spice of pine.
She looked at her body and thought it had somehow disappeared, that she’d dissolved into the snow itself. But a bitter gust unsettled her hair, making the ends whirl about her face. A white nightgown flickered around her legs.
Dianna clenched her hand experimentally. A warm rush of blood prickled through her. She tried the other hand.
No, this is real, she thought.
“No,” she found herself saying. She rubbed the back of her head, tearing clumps of snow from her hair. “No . . .”
She sat up, squinting into the night. The farmhouse was a distant speck on the horizon. The slope below it was draped in a clean, blank canvas, smudged only by a trail of her own footprints. They stopped in a spray of powder at her stocking feet, where she’d tripped and woken. She moved her ankle away from a knotted tree root and looked up.
Snow-laced pines loomed tall and motionless as sentinels around her.
Something moved among them, half-smothered in the dark. Dianna glimpsed slivers of its lupine form. A chill slithered through her as she rose to her feet.
The demon went still, watching her.
Behind latticed branches, its molten yellow stare was unfaltering. Dianna’s heart was a bird beating its wings against the cage of her ribs. Though her instincts screamed to run, she dared not move.
Both girl and wolf stood with the impasse of strangers, each studying the other. Time seemed to suspend. The sounds of the woods calmed to a hush.
It began to snow.
The snow fell like fragments of moonlight, silver-flecked, before blinking out in the darkness. Dianna stood like a shivering fawn on feeble legs as the cold nipped at her skin, pushing its icy fingers through her hair. It touched her nose, swelled in her fingertips and toes. Snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.
The wolf’s expression seemed serene, even curious, fringed in a soft halo of fur. Its auric eyes remained fixed on hers as if waiting for something to happen.
As Dianna stayed rooted to the spot, the grip of fear began to slacken. And slowly, a profound wonder filled her.
The wolf crept forward with a tentative grace, despite its sheer mass. It loomed over her, tall as a grown man. There was a subtle deadliness in its deliberate steps, like a snake twisting through grass, like smoke curling from a slow-burning fire.
Dianna’s breath deepened. She visualized it killing her in one smooth movement – seizing her neck in its jaws, throwing her to the ground with ease.
But still she could not find the strength to move as the snow crushed under its heavy footfalls, closing the distance between them.
The wolf’s head was low, flame-eyes level with hers. Something human stared out from their depths.
The realization tingled on her skin, shivered deep into her bones.
“I see you in there,” she whispered.
It was so close she could feel its hot breath wash over her, strangely welcoming in the winter chill. For one mad second, she wanted to reach out and stroke its fur, just to know the feel of it.
Its muzzle furrowed, revealing glazed, sharp teeth.
Dart-quick, its fangs pierced the soft flesh just above her elbow, sinking in, drawing blood. The white-hot pain shattered through her arm like glass. She buckled to the ground, convulsing.
The wolf turned in a flash, vanished into the veil of snowfall and beyond the clustered pines, a memory to be forgotten.
The Soft Fall is available in paperback, audiobook, and ebook at this link!
This weekend is Thanksgiving in the Great White North, and for a limited time you can get The Sapeiro Chronicles: A Forgotten Past for less than a toonie! Better hurry though, sale ends on Monday, October 11th.
Curious to know more about the land of Sapeiro? Here’s the book blurb:
Beast Whisperer – that was Lily’s special talent. Useful, but not as flashy as some. Or so she thought. When she was a child, Lily had washed up on the riverbank near Basolt, with no memory of who she was. Taken in by the couple who found her, she was raised as their own, alongside their new baby. Years later she does something extraordinary. And word spreads of a new Spirit Hopper, someone who can enter into and control not only beasts, but people. Someone who can change the land of Sapeiro. Someone who supposedly died years before. The rumors catch the attention of those who would control her power. Those who would use Lily for their own purposes, no matter how many lives it costs. They set their plots to capture her in motion. But Lily discovers there is at least one group who might hold the key to her real identity. One group who would protect her. But trust does not come easily for Lily. And her would-be saviors have secrets of their own.
Writing and reading books in the fantasy genre is one of my favorite things to do. Maybe it’s the limitless possibilities that come with the genre, but there’s something so intrinsically cool about building a world from the ground up and thinking about how it works. Do they have giant six-legged beasts they ride to work in the morning? Do they get bouts of rain so acidic that it melts rooftops that aren’t properly insulated? Does their monetary system revolve around singing, and those who sing best are the richest?
There’s a lot that goes into creating a story, especially a high fantasy story…but maybe that’s just my bias showing. With high fantasy, you as the writer have an opportunity to toy with language, different races, jaw-dropping geography and awe-inspiring architecture. The world you build really is only limited to how much you can imagine.
During this process of thinking and building and creating, it’s important to put an emphasis on culture. That’s because a lot of the time, culture is what will impact your story and determine your character’s reactions to the events happening around them or to them.
Pondering the importance of culture in a fantasy story is a pseudo chicken-and-egg scenario. Do you mold the story after the culture you’ve created, or do you change the culture to fit the story? Which should come first?
It’s an interesting conundrum to ponder. But I would argue that the sooner you establish your world’s culture, the sooner you can work out the kinks in your story. An arc that revolves around a girl who wants to work hard and become the first female dragon rider might not make sense in a matriarchal society. Or a boy who refuses to marry might not be a good point of conflict if marriage isn’t an important cultural ceremony.
But before delving any deeper, let’s examine what comprises culture, exactly. It’s a term often thrown around by eager travelers wanting to ‘immerse themselves in the culture of the place, you know?’, but a nation or country’s culture is an intricate knot composed of different elements.
In its broad term, culture refers to a people’s religion, art, literature, beliefs, and customs. It’s the cuisine, the language, social habits, music and customs of a subset of people. It’s the essence of a nation and defines or alters their world view. In effect, it becomes the lens through which they see the world.
Culture should be the backbone of your worldbuilding. You’ll want to think deep and hard about what your world is like, and how the culture has shaped the people who live in your story.
And don’t forget – cultures often vary by region or families. So it’s helpful to think of how to incorporate different cultures, and how they may clash or align with others included in your story. Not only does it make you look good as a writer, but it also serves as fodder for plotting and story structure.
When thinking of the story I wanted to tell with the Sapeiro Chronicles, I gave a lot of thought to the region’s politics and how it influenced or affected people’s view of their leadership. I also gave great thought to how their magic – referred to as Kerai, is part of the social fabric. This made me in turn consider how to weave it into the myths and legends of Sapeiro, and think about how the relationship with this magic differs per family. Thinking of these different worldviews was instrumental in teasing out how the different conflicts would present themselves, and made for a much more engaging story.
When done well, culture can be a driving force in a story arc. It can be the initial conflict, the resolution, or even the conclusion of your story. Culture is a powerful tool to leverage in your narrative, and you should absolutely exploit it for the purposes of your story.