Revisions: World-building

Another month gone! Spring is on the way and I can hardly believe it! Of course, the arrival of March means I’m woefully behind on my revision goals already. Not for lack of incredible notes from my CP’s! Lack of time is the culprit: it’s busy season at work, and Kiwi is still a puppy, and we’re planning to move again (yes, again) because our commute is a horrendous 45 minutes each way.

In short, although I’ve done some brainstorming and planned a few key changes to improve my manuscript, I’ve had very little time to touch it. Instead, I thought this post could be about the world-building notes I received. I’ll leave the interpretations of Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful tarot cards up to you this time. Let’s get started!


Of course when you’re constructing your world (whether it’s a high school or a continent of kingdoms) you have a list of things to figure out. Social hierarchy, locations, perhaps also how government works, and magic, and the politics between nations and people. But when all of that’s done, it’s not over–now you need to fill in the cracks!


There are two kinds of cracks that can tear your world apart:

You didn’t answer all the questions your readers will have!

This is simple to fix–you’ve read your own story multiple times. YOU know what you want to happen and how everything effects everything else. But maybe you forgot that when Suzie came inside she’d been out in the rain. Why isn’t her hair wet? And wouldn’t her mother say something about it since she was supposed to be studying in her room? You didn’t notice because it’s imperative for Suzie to fool her mother or the next pin in your plot collapses, but you need to find a more believable way for that to happen now.

You do have the answer but you didn’t put it in there!

Congratulations, you don’t have to go back to the drawing board! You just need to include the information you already worked so hard to cultivate. I am especially guilty of this once I’ve gone through a draft a few times. I’ve caught the cracks, but now that I answered them for myself, I forget to sprinkle the answers in for everyone else. YOU know the secret history of Suzie and her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, but the few references you made are confusing and don’t convey what you wanted. Just find a way to add and clarify the information readers need.


With good notes from beta readers and critique partners, you’ll have no trouble discerning where your cracks are and how to fix them. I’ve found each of my critiques gave me something both similar and different (everyone agreed on the issues but had different ideas of how to fix them). It’s wonderfully inspiring and takes the sting out of revising for what may feel like the hundredth time!

Good luck!


NaNoWriMo 2015: Recap

It’s December 1st, which means National Novel Writing Month is over, and close to half a million people around the world are breathing sighs of relief that they survived 30 days and nights of intensive writing.

I first did NaNoWriMo in 2009 on a bit of a dare (and won!) and since then I’ve joined in a couple of times to meet some goals. Sometimes I was shooting for 50,000 words, other times I just used it as a way to be a part of a writing community and get some other writing done. This year I hit 21,000 words which was within my goal, but that’s not why this was the best November ever. For the first time,  I have my own group of writers and critique partners, and we got to spend several weeks together writing/brainstorming/revising in a Colorado cabin (mountain view included)!


Not only were we able to spend hours on our novels uninterrupted, we had an inspiring setting and delicious food too! This was definitely a writing utopia and I’m so grateful we got to do this together. (Shout out to Maddy, Akshaya, Janella, Katy, and Erin! They all have lovely blogs you should check out). 🙂


To me the best part of NaNoWriMo is that for one month writers can leave their caves and find a community with the same goals. Creating together is so rewarding, and can give you a new perspective on projects that may normally never see the light of day. For example, when I was brainstorming one morning I decided Maggie Stiefvater’s tarot deck might be a good way to look at my plot and character arcs. (You can view my guide to doing a tarot reading of your novel here). All kinds of things you might not make the time to do on a regular day of writing can take center stage when you’re on a retreat–any writer should try a retreat if they have the opportunity!  Just the action of locking yourself away from the world and focusing on your book for 3 days straight can do wonders for your productivity–I can’t wait to do this again!

For everyone who enjoyed my previous writing post about tarot and plot, this is a small follow-up I did for fun a few weeks ago. A map of the writer’s journey:


The StarA burst of inspiration for a story

Ace of WandsThe creative energy, enthusiasm and force behind the idea that gets you to begin your project

The MoonA combination of dreaming and fear or uncertainty as your novel progresses and suddenly it’s not as easy as you hoped

Queen of SwordsThis is where some insight and clarity is needed, so get some beta readers or critique partners and see if their advice helps you

Three of CoinsNow that you’ve done some teamwork, you can feel better about your story and it should be back on track (at least until the next round of uncertainty!)

Nine of CupsThe bliss of finishing your book after months of hard work, ups and downs, and even more work

Six of WandsVictory! The final step in the process–your story is done (perhaps you’ve landed an agent or gotten it published as well) and you have about a week before the next project begins to tease you

You can purchase Maggie Stiefvater’s tarot deck here.

The holidays are here – we’ll see if I can get through my TBR in a month!

A Tarot Reading of Your Novel

Raven's ProphecyWhen I first created this blog I intended to include some posts about the novels that I write – the process, the problems, the progress – and what do you know, it’s taken me this long to think of something I felt would be interesting (and not embarrassing) to contribute! My writing is slow and not always methodical, but this was something I did in a moment of inspiration during my first-ever writing retreat and I think it’s a fun way to re-imagine your project.

I’ve been an admirer of Maggie Stiefvater’s art for a while, and when she started creating these tarot cards I knew I had to have it! I know almost nothing about tarot, but the artwork was so beautiful I couldn’t resist. They’re done in colored pencil, which is one of my favorite mediums! Totally sold, end of story.

This is a way to plot your novel using the loose interpretations of tarot cards. This deck comes with a helpful guide on each card’s meanings and connections, so even if you don’t have them memorized you can align them to your story. Here’s how you can do this too!

Gather your main cast

Pull out some cards that you feel represent your main characters – for these I used the major arcana and pulled one for each of my characters’ key traits or flaws. In this example, my protagonist is The Fool, because hers is the most expansive character arc. She is full of potential, she’s brash, her ignorance gives her a fearlessness to take on the story’s challenges. Her best friend is represented by Strength. She has already come through her own journey in a previous story, so she has earned patience, self-control, and belief in herself. Finally, my last character is The Devil. He is full of ambition and selfishness, and these vices are going to come into play in this story.

Begin their journey

Now that I have my characters, it’s time to start Act 1 (or part 1, or the beginning of your story). For this I picked the Seven of Coins for Stiefvater’s interpretation of assessment, choice, risk, and reward. My characters are presented with an opportunity for adventure and reward, and the duality of the roses happens to align with this mission in my book. The mission involves an old love and a clash of values, so The Lovers was perfect here. And last, they attempt to start this journey with clarity and a successful plan, so the Ace of Swords fits in here. The best of intentions begin our plot. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - MCs act 1

Complicate their journey

We move on to Act 2 (or part 2, or the middle, or the plot thickens). As with all stories, nothing is as simple as it seems. The minor arcana tend to revolve more around events or actions than traits so I relied on these for my plot points. I chose the Seven of Swords because not everyone is on this journey for the same reason. Not only is there intense strategy going on, we have secret manipulation and deception. The Eight of Swords increases the drama with self-doubt and confusion. My main character is starting to realize there’s more going on than meets the eye, but she isn’t sure what to do. But then we come to the Page of Swords, and the truth comes out. My characters get some clarity regarding the reality of their situation. What’s the next course of action? Seven of Wands – sort out your priorities and begin a defense. Brace yourself for the storm. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 2

Complete their journey

We have reached Act 3 (or part 3, or the end). Now that specific actions are connected and moving towards resolution, I mixed the major and minor arcana to grasp the scope and tie everything together. The Five of Wands kicks everything off with some chaos. Everything they feared and prepared for in act 2 is now unleashed. The Tower captures the betrayal and divisions between my characters now that their different priorities are fully realized. Death is a dramatic card but this is the point where several characters undergo transformations and change–the end of their character arcs, the reason a story is told in the first place. Going along with this, The Sun takes them from change to self-awareness, clear-sightedness, and hope. This pairing is probably going to appear in every story, unless you are exploring the effects of a static character. Finally, The World declares that we have reached a conclusion. Characters have grown and changed (for better or worse), conflicts are resolved, we feel a sense of completion now that the story is over. My main character has transformed from The Fool to a self-actualized character, and in another story she would be represented by a new card, just like her best friend became Strength. (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary - act 3

The Final Spread

When you’ve chosen your cards and arranged them accordingly, you can see the character arcs and beats of your story as broadly or as detailed as you like. You can even see how the parts of your story are balanced, and whether everything is tied together in the end or not. As a bonus, you end up with a tarot spread that looks beautiful and that teases your story without giving away anything *too* concrete! (click the photo to enlarge)

Tarot Plot Summary

There are so many styles and types of tarot decks, so you can easily personalize this project even more – have fun and unlock some inspiration!

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