lana krumwiede

Building Worlds with Guest Writer Lana Krumwiede (Tips on Writing Tuesday #9)

Today, I welcome wonderful author Lana Krumwiede to share some writing tips on ‘world building.’  Lana’s debut middle-grade novel, Freakling, was published by Candlewick in October, 2012 and if you haven’t checked it out…well you should (see my review here).  In fact, you should check out Lana’s website here and check out Freakling either on Amazon or Goodreads.


Take it away, Lana…


I had the pleasure of acting as guest author for one of the summer writing camp sessions of Richmond Young Writers. Everything about it was awesome: the writers, the instructors, Chop Suey Books. Heaven!

Since I got to choose the topic, we talked about world building, which is just a more interesting word for setting.  World building is associated with fantasy and science fiction, because the author must provide enough information to allow the reader to understand the character’s world, be it another planet, an imaginary future, or an alternate reality. It’s not just the writer that builds the world–the reader also has to build a vision of the world in his own mind as he reads. The writer’s job is to provide the building material to make that happen. Like all building materials, they must be provided in a logical order and in manageable quantities. Otherwise, the builder (reader) has trouble knowing where all the pieces fit.
In writing Freakling, I knew world building was going to be a huge challenge. Patricia Wrede’s world building questions had given me a lot to think about. I had a lot of details about Taemon’s world worked out in my notes, but I knew including every single bit of that would overwhelm the reader. I had to choose. But how?
The answer involves a sad story from my family history.
In 1900, my great-great grandfather and two of his brothers were killed in a horrific mine explosion in Utah. About 200 miners lost their lives in the blast. Most of them were immigrants; some had entered the United States only two weeks previous to their death. For the small town of Scofield, it was absolutely devastating.
Every able bodied man was needed in the search for the bodies that were scattered throughout the mine. The people involved in the rescue had just lost family members, friends, and co-workers. They were exhausted from working through the night. Arguments broke out, in particular because the Finns refused to take part in the search despite the fact that some 50 of the deceased were their fellow countrymen. More level-headed people (or perhaps bilingual people) intervened to explain that Finnish customs were very strict about who was allowed to handle bodies of deceased persons, and that the search should be done on a volunteer basis.
A few of the Scofield rescuers, 1900
Customs about who is allowed to handle a corpse. Wow. From a writer’s perspective, that little detail about the Finns is a gold nugget. Conflict! Tension! It’s like revving the engine of the plot.
I thought about how people in Deliverance would feel about dead bodies, and that resulted in some great scenes in the book. I found that the suspicions and paranoia that had seeped into the culture of Deliverance made great fodder for conflict, both large and small. It also helped set the mood and tone for the scenes that are set in Deliverance. I suppose the answer to making choices about world building boils down to this: whatever serves the story best.
Isn’t that the answer to every writing question?


This post first appeared on Lana’s website.

Interview with Lana Krumwiede (Win a Signed Copy of ‘Freakling’ – Giveaway at Bottom of Post)

UPDATE: Congrats to Sam K. on winning the giveaway!

I had the privilege last month to meet with Richmond author Lana Krumwiede, not once, but twice.  First was at her book launch for her debut, MG novel, Freakling (which I love and reviewed last week).  I love to support local authors and had a blast (there were cupcakes and a magician, what’s not to love)!   She decided to have her launch at bbgb bookstore, a wonderful little independent children’s/YA bookstore in Richmond.  If you are in the area and have never been, you should go!

Then I got to hear from her again at the James River Writer’s Conference the very next weekend where she was on some of the panel discussions.  Apparently she didn’t think I was stalking her too much because she agreed to do this interview and to also give away a signed, hardcover copy of Freakling (see giveaway at bottom of the page).  How cool is that!?!?  No strings attached…just enter the giveaway by giving your email address or signing in with Facebook.

Thank you Lana for taking the time to write such a wonderful novel and for answering these questions for interested readers.  If you don’t already own a copy, you can purchase it at your local bookstore, or online by clicking here:

1. What was your inspiration for writing Freakling?

I wanted to write an inversion of the super-hero story. There are plenty of stories where a person discovers latent powers at the beginning of adolescence. I thought it would be interesting to tell a story where a person loses their power at this critical time. There are plenty of stories about a person with a super power trying to fit into a world of ordinary people. I wanted to tell a story about an ordinary person trying to fit into a world filled with super powers. I think we all feel that way some (or maybe most?) of the time.

2. As with many fantasy/sci-fi novels, there are some very unique names (i.e. Taemon, Yens, Moke).  How do you come up with names for characters?

I was looking for names that were different, and yet had a familiar ring to them. Most of the names are variations of names that exist in our world, which speaks to the idea that Taemon’s world is an alternate version of our own. Yens’s name came from the idea that his is ambitious and passionate, driven by his desires, while Taemon is much more reserved, though strong in his own way. The name Taemon is a mixture of strong sounds (the explosive t) and weak sounds (the murmured sound of m), which also represents his character. For the names of the supporting characters, I wrote down lists of traditional names, then mixed and matched syllables (Wiljamen, Solovar, Hannova). Challis, however, was an exception. I used to teach swimming lessons and once taught a little girl named Challis (which is a town in Idaho). I loved that name and always knew I would use it in a story someday. It seemed to fit Taemon’s long lost aunt perfectly.

3. I personally love the use of Mam (for mom) and Da (for dad) in the book; it adds an authentic feel to the setting and helps me feel more in tune with the world you are creating.  What made you decide to use those names?

I wanted Deliverance to feel like a futuristic place, but still have some earthy qualities. I liked the idea that the future doesn’t always mean moving on to something new. Sometimes we reach back for comforting things in our past. The terms “Mam” and “Da” have an old-world feel to them, which plays nicely against the dystopian feel of the book. Psi, and the lack of physical touch that came with it, has created this subconscious yearning for some of the old ways.

4. What are other books/projects you are working on right now?

I’m just finishing up the sequel to Freakling, which is untitled at the moment. There are a lot of fun things in the book, unexpected consequences of Taemon’s monumental decision at the end of Freakling.  Taemon travels to places beyond Deliverance, so we get to see a little more of his world and learn about the big picture, which Taemon was unaware of in the first book.

Also, I am working on a picture book with Candlewick, which has been a very nice change of pace. I hope to be able to share details about that soon.

5. When did you decide that you wanted to “be a writer” and become serious about it?

About three years ago, we moved from Boise, Idaho, to Richmond. Before that, I had been caring for my youngest daughter and working part-time at the YMCA; writing for children’s magazines was something I did on the side. When we arrived in Richmond in 2009, part-time jobs were impossible to find. Even the substitute teacher lists were full. At this point, I was about halfway into the first draft of what later became Freakling, and I decided to treat writing as my new job. It took me about 6 more months to finish the novel, and then work on a killer query letter and researching agents.

6. What is your writing routine?

I’ve never been very good with routines. Every day is different for me. I try to write for at least two hours each day, but even that doesn’t always happen. There are other times where I write up to 6 hours a day. I would love to get myself into a good writing routine. I think routines can really help with productivity. Still working on that.

7. What are some of your favorite books of all time and why?

The Giver, by Lois Lowry. Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix. I love these stories because they are filled with important ideas, moral dilemmas, and high-stakes emotion. I love that the writing is spartan and very direct, yet the images are clear and the storytelling is superb. That’s what I love the best–a well-told story that demands your attention, gives you something to think about, and stays with you.

8. If you could meet any author, who would it be and why?

I would love to sit down with Margaret Peterson Haddix and thank her for the blurb she wrote for Freakling. She is one of my favorite authors and it meant so much to me to read her lovely endorsement of my book.

9. What advice can you give aspiring writers?

There are many ways to be a successful writer. It’s more about persistence than it is about talent–persistence in improving your writing, moving on the next story, learning the skills you need to meet your goals. If you keep doing that, you will be successful. It may not happen as soon as you’d like, but it will happen.

10. Last but not least, in your bio it states that you enjoy pie and board games.  What’s your favorite pie and what kind of board games do you like?

I guess I’m American through and through, because I love a really good apple pie. With vanilla ice cream. And caramel. Mmm . . . there’s nothing better. As for board games, I love any kind of word game like Scrabble, Boggle, or Bananagrams. I can hold my own with Clue or Monopoly, but word games are my favorites.

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