If Walls Could Talk: Not-Writing with M.H. Norris and Nicole Petit

M.H. Norris

This week, a lot of writers I know were discussing not-writing, and the writing that happens when you’re far away from your keyboard. The kind of not-writing that separates successful stories from unsuccessful ones.

What are you talking about Mary Helen? Isn’t writing, well, writing?

Nicole Petit and I had a discussion about this last night. Some of you will know Nicole as the editor of The Dragon Lord’s Library anthology that we released last month. And I’m excited for her next book, The Dragon Lord’s Secretary which will release later this month.

One thing that is different between my writing and Nicole’s are our worlds. Nicole writes some wonderful fantasy, while I tend to stay in a more realistic world with my mysteries. Someday, I’d love to approach the challenge that Nicole has faced and create my own world. Good to know I’ll have a friend to ask for advice.

Dragon Lord's Library 2 Cover

Last night she and I fell into some role-play (much to James’ amusement), as her series character, Scarlet, bickered with mine, Dr. Rosella Tassoni. The Presidential Secret argued with the Forensic Mythologist over who was the most fit to handle a magical mystery. That’s an argument we’ll have to let them pick up at a later time.

As this went on, I was trying to finish a chapter in a book before I went to bed and I made a remark about how I was glaring at her and her fantasy world as I tried to read. Then she made a good point—even if a fantasy world doesn’t have a link to the real world (unlike her series), it requires just as much research as something set in the ordinary world.

And while it may look different, both of us have to do different types of prep in our work. I’m currently curled up with a book on forensics, refreshing my memory as I work on my All the Petty Myths story.

But for fantasy, Nicole has more to worry about. Species, invented history, the mythology and societies of her invented world. But then she goes beyond that, and needs to make sure that every time her world intersects with the real world nothing contradicts. Scarlet can’t go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt at a time he was indisposed; she can’t reference a song if it hasn’t been sung yet, or a movie if it hasn’t been released yet. Everything has to work together and nothing can contradict itself. Everything has to match real-world history.

“You need to know the culture, politics, and so on of the world that is your story’s background,” Nicole told me. “You need to keep track of all the world-building details. I had to keep track of all the species I referenced, make sure they lined up with established world-building. I had to work on the background politics involved in the world at large. That’s a massive thing for any genre, but especially fantasy.”

And I agree with her. Even in a more realistic world, I have to worry about culture, politics, and history. Where is my character’s home base, what are the politics of the world, how involved is she? There’s a lot to keep in mind as you bring a story to life.

“It won’t be immediately obvious to a reader, but it makes the difference between a good story and a bad.”

And I have to agree. There was some poor excuse of a detective movie I watched ages ago; it drove me nuts to watch it because the writers didn’t seem to bother to research. If you think “No-one will notice,” you’re quite wrong. They will. You owe it to yourself, and your characters, to put in the not-writing time to make your writing shine.

See y’all next week. I’m going to wander back to my book and my notes.