World Building and Character Development the Organic Way

FictionReboot2Welcome back to the Fiction Reboot! Today I am pleased to host Vanna Smythe, blogger and author of the new YA dystopian series, Progeny of Time. Lately, YA has been given rather rough treatment–there are those who suggest that it doesn’t provide any depth or development. I’m the first to admit that–as with any genre–there are good and bad novels out there, but YA fiction can be as thought-provoking and rewarding as any (The Book Thief and The Giver are timeless classics.) And let’s not forget that we read for pleasure as much as instruction! Today, I have asked Vanna to share a bit about character development and how a series “grows.” Welcome, Vanna.

About the author:

profilebetterressmaller(1)Vanna Smythe is the author of the Anniversary of the Veil fantasy trilogy and The Grower’s Gift, the first book in a new YA dystopian series. She has been writing creatively since her early teens, though one could say her creative writing efforts started long before that. While still in kindergarten, she once tore up a library book to make alphabet soup, and has been fascinated with what words can do, the pictures and worlds they can create, ever since.

Vanna is currently working on a new YA dystopian series called Progeny of Time, which was inspired by the bleak future presented in The Hunger Games, the fight between good and evil played out in Harry Potter, and the TV show Heroes, but with a totally unique story and twist. And don’t worry, the story will be equally fun for teens as well as adults. The second book in the series will be released in Summer 2014.



I am very much a seat-of-the-pants or discovery writer, especially when it comes to character development and world building. While I will plan the plot of each novel and like to have a good idea where I want it to end before I start writing, I usually let the characters show me who they are as their story unfolds. As for the world building, I start with a general sketch that includes a time, a government system and way of life that is prevalent, but I mostly keep this info in my head and build and embellish it as I go along.

With characters, I like to know their physical appearance, greatest wish or desire, and their position in life and the story. Once I establish this, I let them interact with other characters and show their inner thoughts and emotions as they are faced with the obstacles and challenges in the story. I also like to keep in mind that some sort of transformation has to take place in them from the beginning to the end of the story. Some characters come alive in my mind during this process much faster than others, but eventually I get to know them all well enough to know how they would act and what they would say in any given situation. Once I get to this point, I could write each of them in any setting and any situation.

Unfortunately, I have no set of steps to follow to get to this point, and I sometimes envy the writers who are planners. But I’ve tried meticulous pre-writing planning, and it kills a lot of my natural joy for writing, so I’ve decided to just do it my way from now on. I am lover of history, the social sciences and psychology and I believe our world is all about the people that inhabit it. As a consequence, my fiction is like that as well, or, more precisely, my books are the stories of the people living through a certain situation, in a certain place with a certain set of problems.

For my latest book, The Grower’s Gift, this whole character development and world building process was a little easier to do since the story takes place in the US, but in the year 2102 and in a time when global warming and pollution have caused the ice to melt and the weather patterns to become so unpredictable that the earth can’t support life as it once did. I envisioned the world as a sort of dystopian society, where technological and scientific advances allow people to produce food at the press of a button and create virtual reality worlds that are more real than actual reality. This, in part, led to a deterioration of the social structure that spawned a new breed of rulers, not unlike the ruthless and self-serving monarchs of the middle ages, who care little for the masses and a lot for their growing wealth and power.

As for the main characters, Ty, my male protagonist, came to me pretty much fully formed. I had more trouble getting to know Maya, the female lead. She is a girl with the power to heal the dying earth, and is a sort of “mother” to all. Establishing this, and fitting it into her sixteen-year old thought process took a bit of work and dissemination, but I managed it in the end.


TheGowersGiftCoverMediumTHE GROWER’S GIFT (Progeny of Time #1)

The future is bleak in the year 2102. The planet is in chaos and the weather patterns have completely shifted, turning most of the world into an uninhabited wasteland.

The rich and powerful of North America have pulled back into the six remaining megacities, erasing all trace of a central government and leaving millions displaced by the environmental crisis to fend for themselves in the dying world.

Sixteen-year-old Maya has a gift, a power she thinks can heal the earth and make it habitable again. A gift that she must learn to harness. The school for the gifted in Neo York is the only place where she can learn to control her power and reach her potential.

Yet the school is not what it seems. Ran by the ruthless head of the city of Neo York, the school’s only objective is to extract the powers of the gifted and then discard them. Only Ty, heir to the city, can keep Maya from being destroyed there.

But Ty has a secret, and his loyalty to his family has never wavered.

Will his growing love for Maya be strong enough to save them both?

Download The Grower’s Gift for Free form June 14-18, 2014. Link:

Excerpt From The Grower’s Gift:

The old woman sat on the roots of an old oak tree, her feet in the water. Maya reached her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Come, Mary, I’ll take you home.”

The woman laid a gnarled old hand over Maya’s, her gaze still fixed on the water. “No, child.”

“Please, Mary. I will bring you some bread,” Maya insisted.

Rober strode over and held out the loaf he bought earlier. “Here, I got some bread for you.”

The woman glanced at the bread. “I remember a time when bread was white and fluffy, and everyone had enough. When these fields were covered in grass, and seasons followed each other every year like clockwork. Now the clock is broken.”

How old was she?She’d have to be over a hundred years old to remember the time before the weather broke.

The old woman let go of Maya’s hand and rose slowly. “It is time for me to go.”

“Yes, come on, I’ll take you home. I’ll bring you some cake later,” Maya said and held out her hand for the woman to take. The woman didn’t take it. Instead, she took a step towards the river and toppled in.

“No, Mary, you’ll fall!” Maya screamed. The whooshing current swallowed the woman. Ty only just managed to grab Maya’s arm and pull her back before the current took her too.

Maya shook off his grasp. “Let me go! I have to save her.”

“I’ll get her,” Ty said without thinking. Maya’s need to save the old woman seemed to come from his own heart.

He let go of Maya and ran further down the bank, trying to spot the woman. One of her arms rose from the water farther downstream. Ty waded into the river, only just managing to grab onto the woman’s arm and haul her out.

Her pale eyes stared unblinking into the sky, mud and muck clinging to the wrinkles on her face.

Maya dropped to her knees beside the woman and checked for signs of life.

She beat at the woman’s chest and tried to breathe life back into her lungs. The old woman’s ribs cracked like dry wood. Ty didn’t want to tell her that it was no use, that the woman was dead. Maya realized it on her own soon enough.

She stopped, then laid her left hand against the woman’s chest and closed her eyes. A tear trickled down her cheek when she opened them again.

“She’s gone,” Ty said.

Maya looked at him with those deep eyes, so full of life, tears streaming down her face. “Why did she do it?”

“She saw no point in going on. In being a burden,” Rober answered, glaring at Ty the way he had before, in the square. As if Ty had the power to change anything in the way people of the Badlands lived.

“I’ll carry her back to town,” Ty offered.

Maya shook her head and beat his arm away. “No, leave now. If anyone suspects you had anything to do with Mary’s death it won’t end well. ”

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