Guest Post: The Importance Of World-building by Mary Sutton

purpleToday, I have the pleasure of hosting Mary Sutton, whose YA fantasy debut chapter book I edited for Delabarre Publishing. As a software technical writer, Mary has been making her living with words for over almost 20 years. Power Play is her first published fiction work. She is a member of Pennwriters and is the incoming secretary for her local chapter of Sisters in Crime. Find her online at Here are her thoughts on world-building:

The Importance of World-building

by Mary Sutton

One of the most important things in fiction is that activity known as “world-building.” Most people associate this with fantasy fiction, but you have to do it no matter what kind of fiction you write. “World-building” is where you draw the world in which your characters live. This world can be completely fictional or set in the “real world.”

World-building is a tricky exercise. If you use the real world, as in your story is set in New York, you have to get the details right. This is anything from the names of any famous streets or buildings, to basic geography and history of the locale, to the “feel” of the world. For example, New York is a busy place. People talk fast, walk fast, and drive fast (well, when they aren’t stuck in traffic). It would not be believable if you wrote a story where the “city that never sleeps,” slept.

Fantasy worlds have their own challenges. A lot of people think fantasy and science fiction give the author free rein to make up whatever she wants. Well, that’s sort of true. Your world still has to make “sense,” it has to have a certain degree of believability. You may decide to create a science fiction world that is devoid of gravity, but you better spend some time thinking through things as simple as “how do objects stay in one place” or “how do people go to the bathroom” or your readers, who do have certain expectations of basic physics, aren’t going to find your story “believable make-believe.”

For Hero’s Sword, I had to create two worlds. First, I had to create the “real-life” world of middle school. Fortunately, a lot of things haven’t changed since I was in eighth grade, some thirty-odd years ago. There are still cliques; still the kids on the “outside,” and kids still have those seemingly impossible crushes. I was also fortunate in that I have a first-hand view into today’s middle school through my kids. So it wasn’t hard to build Jaycee’s school world. Between memories and observation I got a very good feel for what I was trying to do.

Slightly more challenging was making sure my characters felt like they belonged to this world. The vocabulary and speech of the characters that inhabited that middle-school world had to be right. It’s been a long time since I thought or spoke like a thirteen-year old, but again I was fortunate enough to be able to observe my kids and their friends.

For the fictional world of Hero’s Sword and Mallory, I had a bit more freedom. After all, this was the world of a video game, so I had lots of options. I could have gone all out with magic, dragons, elves, and wizards – all the trappings of high fantasy. But that’s not really where I wanted to go.

Instead, I wanted more of a medieval “real world” feel. Sure, there’s a certain amount of fantasy. After all, Jaycee is transported into a video game and that’s pretty fantastic.

But I didn’t want to get involved with inventing a new set of rules – or explaining them. It would be far easier to simply base the world of the game on some basic tenets of history, including feudalism, over lords (the “Empire”), petty wars between feudal lords (barons, or in my case, estate owners).

This freed me of the need to develop my own complex set of “standard operating procedures” for my world. Anybody who has ever played a game based on feudal principles would understand the rules of the road. But since my game world is fictional, I was able to build the relationships between Empire, estates, lords, and commoners pretty much how I wanted to – such as simultaneously allowing a woman to rule and having her people not completely approve of that because of a long history of male rulers.

Once I got into the groove, I really enjoyed my fictional world. Since so much of what I write is crime fiction that is very much based on fact (face it, there are certain things a police officer just cannot do), this was an extremely fun and liberating exercise.

I really enjoyed the world of Mallory and I hope I get to spend a lot more time there. And I hope you did to.

So tell me – what is the one thing you need in a fictional world to make it believable?


Power Play coverPOWER PLAY

by Mary Sutton

All Jaycee Hiller wants to do is survive eighth grade. Mostly that means hanging with her friend, Stu, avoiding the cheerleading squad, secretly crushing on Nate Fletcher, and playing her favorite video game, Hero’s Sword. When she receives a new video game controller, Jaycee finds herself magically transported into the Hero’s Sword video game world. Survival takes on a whole new meaning. No longer battling with a plastic joystick, Jaycee picks up a real sword and bow & arrow and readies herself for battle. Can she save Lady Starla’s rule in Mallory, keep herself in one piece, and maybe even learn something about surviving middle school?

Buy your copy today at Amazon:

What Is Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter? (Includes An Excerpt)

I’ve gotten questions about this since I started tweeting about in July when I wrote and finished my first draft at 13k for this new book. Basically, it’s a chapter book for early readers, ages 6-10, in this case probably aimed more at boys.

The idea itself was a collaboration with Jeff Rutherford for whom I blog at and for whom I am primary editor. He also contracted me for four books, the first of which, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids, is out since August and in the Top 10 for its category. It’s ebook only, at the moment, but print may be in the works.

First blurb:
“ABRAHAM LINCOLN: DINOSAUR HUNTER — LAND OF LEGENDS succeeds on almost every level –readability, alternate history, adventure, and excitement.” — Mike Resnick

Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter is intended to be a series of science fiction adventure stories. The idea came from our mutual love of history, my desire to do something more for kids with dinosaurs, and Jeff’s desire to produce books for kids like his own. The basic concept came from putting our ideas together: Abraham Lincoln as a boy winds up hunting dinosaurs with Davy Crockett, who is in his early 30s. We knew we wanted a T-Rex. We knew it would involve a time machine.  After that, I went off and wrote the specifics and book 1, which I’ve titled “Land Of Legends.” It’s the story of how they meet and wind up going back in time, and their introduction to the dinosaur world.

Now, as you may have guessed from the concept, it’s science fantasy. I did research historical figures, such as the scientists who inspire the time travel theory, the dinosaurs and plants of the prehistoric age, Lincoln’s boyhood life and friends, Davy Crockett, etc. But I also put dinosaurs in as I need them without regard for which actually would have encountered each other and I use time travel, so I’m not dealing with historical fact. What I am dealing with is fun and humor and lots of action. I wanted to write the kind of tale I’d enjoy as a kid. If there’s any message in the first book, it’s about friendship and heroes and working together to get through hard times. Those things naturally flow out of the story itself. And I think in  future books any such “lesson” would have to work the same. There’s no intended lesson. I think different readers might get different things and that’ s great!

I structured it like the old serials. Each chapter is like  flash fiction piece around 1400-1600 words with a cliffhanger ending. So it can be read in segments but readers will keep wanting to come back. My friends who beta read it with their kids said the effect worked really well, as the kids looked forward to the next reading to find out what happens next.

Being as there are humans and dinosaurs, there’s a bit of danger, yes, but it’s usually resolved fairly quickly so as not to overpower young readers emotionally. There are great action pieces including encounters with the aforementioned T-Rex, a Stegasaurus, a sabre-toothed tiger, and a bear which Davy Crockett dispatches at a much older age than three.

In any case, I have done rough sketches of seven more books so far and am pretty sure I could do at least three a year and still keep producing my two novels a year and editing anthologies. At 13.5k, these chapter books use simpler wording and shorter sentences and can be drafted much more quickly. And as I get used to the voice, etc., I expect it will go even faster. The polishing took me a weekend after beta notes came back and I let it sit a few weeks.

It’s a fun project to work on, one of the funnest I’ve had. It’s fun to write in a precocious young Abe Lincoln’s voice. And it’s also fun to play with the Crockett legend and all its exaggerations, using that for humor. And I get to write dinosaur scenes, okay? Can somebody pinch me?

In any case, book 1, “Land Of Legends”, is off to the artist and in final edits at Delabarre. We expect to release it for the holidays, if all goes well. It’ll be in trade paperback and ebook, and I really look forward to sharing it with you.

For what it’s worth, I offer this brief excerpt:

The world around us became less hazy again. Soon we were surrounded by trees with thick trunks and heights I’d never seen before. Leaves grew up the sides of their trunks, not just on their branches, and some of the leaves themselves were bigger than my head.

“Where are we?” Jacob mumbled.


Jacob and I exchanged a panicked look. Had the bear come back to life? It wasn’t aboard the machine.

Nehemiah grumbled as he fiddled with the controls.

The rest of us turned to see the giant green nostrils and gaping, sharp teeth of a mighty-jawed lizard. It stood at the edge of the trees, its small front arms flexing as it reared back on giant back feet and rambled toward us.


The ground shook from its every step. The booming echoed in our ears.

Jacob shook beside me, his mouth opening in a silent scream.

Davy swung around, reaching for his rifle and shouted: “Get under the seats, boys!”

“Something went wrong,” Nehemiah muttered.

“We knew that!” Jacob called as we did our best to squeeze under the seats.


The roaring sounded as loud as before. The time machine offered little shelter from those glinting, knife-like teeth. As I looked up at him, I saw the beast also had a jagged scar running down its right cheek.

“Judging from the scar on its face, it can be wounded.” Davy jumped down to the ground and took aim with his rifle.

“Shouldn’t we run?” I asked, looking toward him.

“I’ll try and distract him, lead him away,” he replied, eyes locked on the towering predator. Davy took aim and fired twice at the raging animal’s legs. I saw the bullets tear into flesh and blood start to flow. The animal snarled and screamed but didn’t even slow down. Davy prepared to fire again.

“Wait!” Nehemiah called as the time machine vibrated and hummed again. “I can take us away.”

“To somewhere worse?” Jacob whined.

“Out of here at least,” Nehemiah snapped. “Mister Crockett, get back aboard.”

Davy fired twice more at the monster then scrambled aboard. Nehemiah pushed a lever.


The world faded and spun around us again as we felt the familiar sensation of time flight. 

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun,forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.