Keeping a Reader Engaged Starts with World Building


There’s a moment of magic in reading a story — when I slip out of reality and into another world. I love that moment, especially when it’s so smooth that I don’t notice when it happened until after I’m hooked.

Writers, if we love to tell a story and our readers don’t stay engaged, then we head back to Scrivener or notebook and try again. Simply, if we establish a clear story of what the characters desire more than anything else and place that desire in opposition to the conflict or obstacles the characters face, the reader stays engaged. The obstacles must hinder the desire repeatedly until the desire is resolved, one way or another.

Building desire and conflict starts best for me with world building/character building, before the first draft begins. If I know my people before I begin the first draft, I’ve saved many hours of confusion and rewriting later.

Make the reader feel deeply for the characters’ desire, hero or villain, whether we love or hate them. Then make the reader feel just as deeply when that desire is blocked by obstacles.

Specifically, write the first draft in an obvious or literal way. Don’t be afraid to spell out desires and conflicts in simple terms. No need to be clever here. The first draft can even be a complete outline, scene by scene, beginning to end, if that’s your bowl of soup. In your second draft, you can show with detail the desire and conflict in more subtle and symbolic ways, the crafting.

What’s my bowl of soup? I discovered through the Snowflake Method, found here, how much I can thrive with a good outline and good world building before I start that first draft. What’s your bowl of soup?


Wisdom of the Martian Poet

I’m rereading works from college and came across this gem from C.S. Lewis’s Martian poet. There’s a link below for easy listening, great narrator. 

“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. The Seroni could say it better than I say it now. Not better than I could say it in a poem. What you call remembering is the last part of pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing.  Now it is growing something as we remember it. But sill we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then–that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it.  You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?”

What Should You Have Been?

woman writing on dry erase board

Photo by Christina Morillo on

I should have been a teacher. Trying to fully re-enter the workforce after raising children most of the way up, and the difficulties that comes with, I realize what it would’ve meant. Once into first grade, they’d simply remember me at home after school and with them in the summer.

When I was ten, I told my mother that I wanted to be a teacher. She responded with  profound disappointment and said, dragging the words out slowly, “Oh, Georgia. Don’t be a teacher.” Surprised by her reaction, I asked her why, but I don’t remember her answer. It’s probably too vague to recall it. Now I imagine, she must’ve had a bad experience.

I’ve always hesitated to say what should’ve been because there doesn’t seem to be any good in wishing for a different past. But I’m saying it now. I should’ve been a teacher. I’d be a good one. I’d have been a better teacher than I am a blogger, with my fits and starts the last 14 years. And I’m certainly not the published novelist I wanted to be by now.

We are looking toward educating three “littles” in the United States college system, the eldest starting her sophomore year of college soon, so when I briefly considered getting a library science degree five years ago, I felt I had to put it out of my mind. That notion is the same with a teaching certification.

My next best option, I think, is to find a non-certified position at the high school. (I have applied.) I enjoy the school environment and the well-oiled machine working throughout the year. Littles two and three are both enrolled in the high school, and Little one was asked by her French teacher to come back as a teacher’s aide. You see what this means, don’t you? I may have the chance to be at the high school with all three of them. I never imagined I might have that opportunity.

I am teaching, in a way, since recently becoming a volunteer literacy tutor at the library. In the East Bay of San Francisco, this means there’s a long wait-list, 100+ people just in our town. I’ve always respected those who leave the comfort of their own country to make a life where they don’t know the language, even get a driver’s license for he first time ever at 40 years old. Imagine the DMV with a language barrier. That takes some chutzpah.

The very first thing I wanted to be, which I never told my mother, was a detective. My friend tells me that’s what a writer is.

What should you have been? Or maybe you already are?

Mechanics and Dentists: Navigating the Systems of the World

First off, I really like my mechanics and my dentists.

That hasn’t always been true. I got really taken in Austin, TX with an old Mazda that had, I believe, an electrical short. That’s one of my regrettable but necessary lessons. A new mechanic, a new dentist could tell me anything they want. Tell me assertively enough, and I might believe them long enough to part with some of my money.

Even sadder, throughout the lives of several family members over forty years, we’ve had some very bad medical care. Possibly an unnecessary double mastectomy, leg amputation, back surgery, and we’re certain now unnecessary removal of all of someone’s teeth when only one needed removal. It’s so sad to look back and see how confusion and vulnerability were taken advantage of, which isn’t hard to do in an area with chronically bad health care. But I left that area and found much better care. In California, I’ve met intelligent and humble doctors who take their time explaining options.

I’ve had very mixed feelings about doctors. There was a time, if I found myself not trusting doctors, I reminded myself that I’ve never really needed one. Now that I need them for a loved one, I am constantly navigating in the face of high anxiety. And for the record, if I can find any reason to connect with people and give them the benefit of the doubt, no matter what strange system we’re subjected to, it has almost always been the system that I have a problem with and not the person.

Submitting to a service provider held in high esteem, especially the way doctors can be revered, puts me in a position within the power struggle that I’ve begun to loathe. Being at the mercy of a flawed system, seeking cure and special knowledge — interpreting a baffling lingo which I have to learn to manipulate navigate — makes the gypsy in me want nothing but to flee to the hills.

I probably shouldn’t take comfort in this, but — sometimes you take it where you can! Below is a quote from Middlemarch, written by George Eliot and published in 1871. It’s not just a criticism of the system but a criticism of doctors and of patients and of greed. My beef is definitely with this broken world. The need for remedy while at the mercy of doctors who are at the mercy of the system’s restrictions means I lie awake spinning wheels that don’t find any remedy for my loved one. I’d like to see how old this gripe really is. I’d like to see the first record of complaint of the system, the doctors, etc. I take comfort in the collective gripe 🙂 Below that is a photo of the hills that call me.

“…the high standard held up to the public mind by the College of which which gave its peculiar sanction to the expensive and highly rarefied medical instruction obtained by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, did not hinder quackery from having an excellent time of it; for since professional practice chiefly consisted in giving a great many drugs, the public inferred that it might be better off with more drugs still, if they could only be got cheaply, and hence swallowed large cubic measures of physic prescribed by unscrupulous ignorance”

Excerpt From Middlemarch, George Eliot;




Letting Go of Appalachian Stereotypes


In my desire to place my fiction in Appalachia, I’m reading about both the stereotypes and the real people and culture about which most of the world hasn’t learned. Below is a quote that nicely depicts the latter.

Even in the 1870′s, the Greenbriar White Sulphur Springs was the grandest of all the Virginia Springs hotels. The central hotel was “a remarkable structure, resembling the Krushal at the German baths rather than the vast palaces…of Saratoga.” It was “amply provided with verandas, with a huge ballroom and a colossal reception parlor.” Between the two was a “dining room three hundred feet long, in which twelve hundred guests may at once be seated.” The cottages were arranged along paths marked “Alabama, Louisiana, Paradise, Baltimore, Virginia, Georgia, Wolf, and Bachelor.” During “the early morning the parlor was filled with ladies who make their engagements for the day, and with the customary rows of invalids who chat cheerily.” But not one-tenth of those at such spas were there for the health-giving baths. Creative use of leisure time was spent making contracts and matches, which was the business of most. After the dinner hour, “the crowd separates into small parties, who linger on the verandas, or under the oaks, or along the shaded paths…where hundreds of hearts have been broken.”

~ Richard B. Drake, in his book A History of Appalachia, quoting the 1870s journalist Edward King.

The Romantic in me gobbles this up like a hound dog, but have you ever seen a hound dog eat? Not romantic.

photo thanks to katherine hanlon at