#AnnieHasBeenThere: Free Setting Advice for Writers

Ever run into the problem in writing where you want to set the story in a location that’s perfect for the plot, but you’ve never been there? While technology has come a long way and you can use tools like Google Earth to see some things, nothing truly beats being there. You can’t tell what the air smells like or what sounds stick out louder than others. You can’t judge how the local people will react to you or what the nightlife feels like.

That’s where I come in. I’m launching a new FREE service for my fellow writers. I’ve been blessed to travel to over 50 countries in my life, and I love to take pictures everywhere I go. So I figured why not help out writers who want to set a story in a place they’ve never been?

annie-in-africa
Annie in South Africa

So if you’re struggling to describe the setting in your latest scene, contact me through my contact page (https://anniesullivanauthor.wordpress.com/contact/) asking for photos, descriptions, whatever it is you need. I’ll do my best to give you the info you need to make your setting feel authentic and alive! Or, tweet at me (@annsulliva) using the hashtag #AnnieHasBeenThere and the country or city you’re looking for help on.

Here are the countries and islands* that I’ve been to:

  • Antarctica
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Argentina
  • Aruba (Under Dutch Jurisdiction)
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Botswana
  • Bulgaria
  • Cambodia
  • Canada
  • Cayman Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Chile
  • China
  • Costa Rica
  • Croatia
  • Curacao (Under Danish Jurisdiction)
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Ecuador (Including the Galapagos Islands)
  • Egypt
  • Estonia
  • Falkland Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Hungary
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Monaco
  • Namibia
  • Norway
  • Northern Ireland
  • Panama (Including Panama Canal)
  • Peru
  • Puerto Rico (Under US Jurisdiction)
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • St. Kitts and Nevis
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Maarten/St. Martin
  • Scotland
  • Serbia
  • Slovakia
  • South Africa
  • South Georgia Island (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turkey
  • Turks and Caicos Islands (Under UK Jurisdiction)
  • United States
  • Vatican City
  • Vietnam
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

Major US cities and locations I’ve been to:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Indianapolis
  • Miami
  • Nashville
  • New Orleans
  • New York City
  • San Francisco
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Washington, D.C.

*Please note that I’ve spent more time in some countries over others and have not been to all parts of every country. But I’ll do my best to give you what info I can.

Keep an eye out for my #TravelTuesday posts on Twitter with pictures of the places I’ve been so you can get some more inspiration.

Happy writing!

What Dracula’s Castle Taught Me About Writing Fear

It was a dark and stormy night…..okay, it was actually a dark and stormy day at Bran Castle, aka Dracula’s Castle in Romania. As we explored the castle, the thunder pitching across the spiked peaks of the pine trees covering the mountains certainly helped set the mood, which was good because the castle isn’t nearly as scary as you might expect it to be.

white-room-bran
One of the rooms in Bran Castle

All the rooms are covered in fresh white wash that disguises any sins the castle seeks to hide. The furniture that’s displayed is carefully arranged to be easily viewed by the long lines. And people walking around listening to their guides speak kills the ambiance. No slinking through darkened, deserted hallways on this trip. You’d be lucky if you didn’t have thirty people fighting to go up the same small staircase as you.

Minus some swords plastered to the wall and the odd torture device, the castle was actually pretty bland in its serene white shell. So how does that teach you about writing fear?

bran-torture
Torture device in Bran Castle

What I remember is the storm as we left. Rain pelting us. Twisted paths. Unfamiliar roads. No one else around. Streams of water coursing down the uneven stone pathways. Family members getting separated as others ran ahead. Shoes slipping. Dark trees looming high overhead. Water dripping down your face, obscuring your vision. Unending thunder chasing us down.

It’s enough to make any heart beat fast. And it did!

I was already keyed to be scared at the castle because of its history, and the thunderstorm brought that fear to life. So apply that same idea to your story. If you’re writing about a villain, give us a rumor about them, something to set the scene. But then, it’s okay to back away. To make your reader feel safe in those white washed walls before hitting them hard the moment they’re not expecting it, the moment they think they’re free.

Even if the villain’s not there, you can let the setting do the job for you. With the right set up, all you need are key elements- rain and darkness, paranoia and desperation, shadows and sounds, leaving someone behind and being lost. Fear. It comes in many forms. You just have to find the right ones that will set your character off, to make them freeze up in the middle of the rainstorm as others run ahead. Let the storm chase them. Let it chase us, your reader. That’s when your fear will come to life.

I’m reminded of what I once heard about the movie Jaws. Supposedly, the shark kept malfunctioning, and with the film quickly running out of budget and time, the director had to find ways to shoot scenes without the shark. Of course, the scenes still had to be scary. So the director made the water murky and dark, playing on our fear of the unseen. He made music that still haunts us today. All this, in turn, made the shark scary by association. Sometimes it’s not what we see, but the other things we experience that make something scary. Think about that next time you write a scene.

What other books/movies play up fear using just setting alone? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

 

 

 

 

 

How Publishing is Like Playing Super Mario Bros.

First off, you start off small.

That’s right. You’re tiny, vulnerable. Maybe you’re even unsure of the rules. You run ahead only to run straight into a goomba. And you die.

That’s what sending your first query feels like. You’re one tiny voice in the slush pile. You send your query off only to get a rejection 6 weeks later. And in some ways, it does feel like you die. Your hope dies. Your spirit dies. Maybe even your dream dies.

But the great thing about Mario is that you have more lives left! You can start all over again. And this time, this time you’re coming back with more knowledge. You’re better prepared. Maybe you had a critique partner read over your query letter and show you where an agent may have gotten confused. Or maybe you strengthened your opening few pages. And now you’re ready to jump over that first goomba when it comes.

What happens after you sail over that goomba? You find some blocks. One even contains a mushroom! You grab it, and you feel ten feet tall, just like you do when you get your first request from an agent for 50 pages or the full manuscript!

Now you’re on a roll! But then, you encounter a series of pipes. Some you can go down, and some you can’t. Think of each of those pipes as literary agents. Some just won’t be interested in your novel. Some maybe just signed a client who writes too similarly to you. Whatever the reason, those pipes just don’t lead anywhere. They’re just not the right fit for you.

But stick with it! Work past those Koopa Troopas, those pesky individuals who say you’ll never succeed and shouldn’t be spending so much time writing or those thoughts that keep coming back saying you’re not good enough. Keep a close eye on those because just when you think you’ve squashed them, those shells shoot back out of nowhere and knock you off a cliff. And you have to start all over again.

Yet, if you don’t give up, if you don’t give in, if you dodge those shells when they come for you, you might just find a pipe that leads you to a strange new world. It might be a world filled with terms you’re not familiar with yet, like R&Rs (Revise & Resubmit), but it’s usually a world that holds secret treasure (hello signing with an agent!).

While it might feel like you’ve found the Holy Grail, you’re still a long way off from defeating Bowser. So you keep going.

But once you’ve found an agent (hey there, Luigi!), you’ve got help on the journey. Your 1 player game has now become a 2 player one! Now it’s off to the castle! You and your agent…I mean Luigi, burst through those doors, dodge fire and lava and goombas galore. Then, you meet that castle’s boss…aka The Editor at the publishing house your agent submitted to…the one who holds your fate in his or her hands!

Sometimes, in a few moves, the boss kicks you into a flaming lava pit and you die (aka you get rejected.) Sometimes, though, you might defeat the boss only to learn that your princess isn’t in that castle, meaning that even though the editor liked it, they couldn’t buy the project for whatever reason. So you move on to another castle. And another. Always looking for your elusive princess.

And then, one day, many goombas later, you find the right castle! And you realize that all those levels you beat before have been preparing you for this moment. You’re ready. You march right up to Bowser and show him what you’re made of!

And you win!!! Before you know it, Princess Peach is running into your arms, all wrapped up in a nice publishing contract!

Congratulations! You’ve done it! You’ve won the game!

They’ll be time for celebrations and congratulations. But, you can’t rest on your laurels because as the saying goes, “The only thing harder than getting your first book published is getting your second book published.” You’ve got to keep practicing because everyone knows there’s going to be a sequel to the game, and it’s going to be even harder than the first one. So put on your red hat, keep an eye out for Yoshi, and grab all the Super Stars you can because you’re going to need them on your quest to make the New York Times Best Seller list….I mean get a new high score. But from this little Toadstool, who’s always full of advice, encouragement, and helpful tips, I just want to let you know that you’ve got this! We’re all rooting for you, Player 1. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

Hi! My name is Annie Sullivan. I’m a Young Adult and Picture Book author. I love writing about fantasy worlds and fairytale retellings. One of the best ways I’ve found to get inspired to come up with unique fantasy worlds is by traveling. So you’ll see a lot of tips for how to incorporate inspiration from around the world in upcoming blog posts.

When I’m not traveling and writing, I love reading (Meg Cabot, Madeleine L’Engle, and Jane Austen are a few favorites!), taking my dog for walks, watching movies (anything from classics, to Disney, to today’s top blockbusters!), and hanging out with my friends and family. I’m an expert four leaf clover finder (perhaps you could guess that I’ve got Irish ancestors!). I love anything sweet and can easily be bribed with food, and I’m one of those people who can listen to the same song over and over again when I’m writing.

So that’s me in a nutshell! Leave a comment with a little about yourself and what you’d love to learn about writing, traveling, or both!