Otherworld at 9

I first started writing my Otherworld series in 2013. Nine years is an awfully long time no matter how you look at it, and it’s the longest I’ve stuck with…well, pretty much anything in my life. Okay, my laptop dates to 2007, my tablet is from 2011, and I still play retro games from the 80s, but you get the idea. Otherworld is my longest-lived creative pursuit by far.

The setting still has a lot of life, even if I’m not sure I do. I’d originally planned four “seasons” of eight stories each, for a total of 32 “episodes” in the series. Later on, as I discovered that some stories needed to be told outside that fixed schedule, I added a kind of interstitial set, which I (quite naturally) called A Bridge Between Worlds. That six-part miniseries then became a blueprint: the time between Seasons 2 and 3 got its own bridge stories, Tales of Two Worlds, and I intended to write a third group, titled Best of Both Worlds, before tackling Season 4. Will that still happen? I don’t know. I’d like to keep it going, though.

Now, while I set out with the idea of writing eight short novels that functioned as individual parts making up a cohesive whole, Otherworld originally served two purposes that had nothing to do with creating a million-word magnum opus. First, it was a playground for worldbuilding, because that, to me, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of fiction creation. More specifically, this series was to be my experiment in creating languages as something more than a one-off, and with the intention of somehow using them.

That succeeded, in my opinion. In its 33 entries so far (20 episodes, 12 bridge stories, and a prequel/spinoff) I’ve managed to sneak in snippets from seven of the ten languages I sketched out for the setting. Most of the time, it’s a single word or phrase here and there—most of the characters in narration are people from Earth who have been transported to the Otherworld setting, and that’s one way I represent their lack of knowledge about that world. A couple of times, I’ve included longer stretches of alien speech, usually to indicate a change in style or formality, or to show that a piece of text is in a language nobody understands. It’s not perfect, but then Otherworld is a labor of love. I’ve never truly expected anyone to read it.

As I wrote, the languages and even the setting itself began to shift into the background. Somehow, despite all my intentions to the contrary, I began writing a character-based drama. Some episodes even end up as more “slice of life” than anything, and that’s a genre I never even wanted to enter.

But it worked out that way, and I feel that’s partially due to the characters I chose at the beginning. They numbered seven, all in their early 20s, all college students. Nothing like someone who had just turned 30 and never even set foot on a college campus as an adult, right?

Apart from that minor distinction, these seven were…parts of me. Through the nine years of Otherworld, I’ve come to understand that. They represent aspects of my personality, whether or not I realized it in the beginning. I grow, and so do they, but in different ways. And that’s what I want to look at today. Where were they at the start? Where are they now? And what does that say about me?

Obviously, this post is spoiler-heavy, and it even includes spoilers for stories that aren’t out yet. Then again, Otherworld isn’t the kind of story where knowing what happens next ruins the ending. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

We’ll start with Ryan. After all, he’s the leader. Initially, I saw him as just that, maybe with a little bit of jock mixed in. To put it bluntly, Ryan is the avatar of my masculinity. He’s a man, he knows it, and he knows what it means. So he has a chivalrous streak, not because he thinks women are weaker than men, but because he has the protective nature that I believe all men should strive for.

After two and a half years of story time, Ryan has become a CEO. I’m a CTO, so that’s not completely out of the realm of possibility. He’s still the protector, though, the man who places himself in charge to make sure nobody else gets hurt in his place. And he has been hurt: physically, by being on top of a collapsing wall in Situational Awareness, and the mental strain of dealing with a natural disaster in Waters Rising.

He hasn’t come out unscathed. Neither have I, even if most of my wounds are self-inflicted. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Before I even typed the first word of what became Out of the Past, I knew Jenn would be the hardest to characterize. She’s so unlike me that I’ve written two posts complaining about the troubles I had finding her voice. I still haven’t fully grasped it after all these years, and I continue to find her chapters a chore, but I’m finally starting to come to terms with her.

Jenn is the explorer in me. That’s the best way I can describe it. She always wants to see what’s around the next bend or over the next hill, and she won’t stop until she finds a way to get there. But she has something I don’t, something I often wish I did. In The City and the Hill, she felt compelled to hide her faith. By Light to the Depths, she has embraced it, and found her calling as a kind of missionary.

I’ll never be one to spread Christianity to anyone, let alone a bunch of medieval-level demihumans living on another planet. Strange as it seems, though, I do see that same kind of zeal buried deep within myself. It’s one of the reasons I’m working on the technetism project, and I have to admit that Jenn earns some measure of credit for bringing that out.

Amy got the first chapter of Out of the Past and the last non-epilogue scene of Long Road’s End. There’s a good reason for that, and it’s the core of what makes her character. She is my hope, my optimism. She always has been. Since I wanted to start off on the right foot, the opening scenes of the series are from her point of view: a young woman seeing parts of the world for the first time and wondering what might be out there. By the end of Season 1—a mere four months, really—she has lived a life, and now she’s excited to come home and tell people all about it…but equally ready to go back.

More than any other character, Amy fell in love with the Otherworld, just as I did. She spent the entirety of The Control Variable thinking about what would happen the next time she had a chance to go there. When she finally did in The Second Crossing, she threw herself into it. Now, she’s happily married (beating me in both categories) and living the dream. But she still wants to make things better for herself and everyone around her. She has a love of the world around her, but also faith in humanity.

That’s me in a nutshell. Even underneath all the depression and anxiety that have troubled me for the past two years, I still retain both of those. Since I so rarely have the chance to let them out, Amy becomes my outlet. Through her words and actions, I can express my feelings.

That’s becoming increasingly true of Ashley, as well. At the start, she was even more the devil’s advocate character than Jenn. I detest identity politics and “wokeness” in all their myriad forms, and 2013 was around the time I started noticing such evils creeping into society. Since Otherworld was set a few years later, my thought was that the rot would only increase—I was right, but I’ll save the gloating for another post—and it just made sense that at least one of the characters would be all-in on the whole thing.

She’s grown a lot since then. In Situational Awareness, she came out as bisexual. (I’m certainly not doing that, so don’t get any ideas!) The stories of A Bridge Between Worlds introduced the character of Jeanette, who has since become somewhat more than a love interest; Light to the Depths involved the two of them dealing with a near-breakup, then committing to taking their relationship to the next level. I’d like nothing more than to have that chance.

While she still retains some of her former beliefs, they’ve been tempered by time in the Otherworld. She learned, which is something so many people her age just can’t do today. If Ashley represents any part of me, then, it’s the willingness to try something, to dive into a new hobby or job or, well, relationship. Yes, that can get me into trouble, but it’s fun while it lasts, right?

At first glance, Lee is even harder to pin down. I think that comes from being a little bit of a mixture. On one hand, he is my connection to history and heritage: he’s proud of his Navajo ancestry, just as I am of my descent from Cherokee and Choctaw ancestors. On the other hand, he also carries some of my sense of humor. He’s acerbic, sarcastic, often to the point of grating, and that makes him easy to write half the time.

His character growth has been the most obvious of all. Lee’s chapter in A Matter Settled was, at the time, the closest thing to a sex scene that I’d ever written. His scenes in Written in Black and White, where he became the first Earthling to marry a woman native to the Otherworld, were an adventure for me as much as him. The Code Breaker saw him become a father and invent a whole new trade, two items high on my own bucket list.

Lee’s history resembles mine in another way, however. His parents divorced when he was 11, and he grew very attached to his mother as a result. Not in any Oedipus kind of way, mind you, but the very natural clinging of a desperate, depressed child to the only anchor in his life. My own life, with a similar event at almost the same point, comes to mind when I read the family reunion in The Second Crossing, and it’s one of the few Otherworld scenes that brings me close to tears.

Jeff also stayed behind in Long Road’s End, choosing the relative unknown of the Otherworld over a return to everything he’d ever known on Earth. Like Lee, he did it because of a woman, even if he claimed otherwise.

But let’s back up for a moment, because Jeff has another purpose in the story. He was always the linguist, and thus the best way for me to introduce the language aspects of the setting. To do that, however, I had to make him knowledgable. Thus, Jeff is the avatar of knowledge, and he has stayed as such throughout the entire nine years of writing. His scenes are my window into the greater history of the Otherworld, which has even led to Seasons Change, the prequel set over four thousand years before the main story. Without Jeff, I never would’ve considered doing that.

On top of all that, he has to be the teacher within the setting, too. Part of that comes from my innate desire to teach, because what good is knowledge if you keep it all to yourself? His native wife is certainly very indulgent in many respects, but her occasional chapters have given me the chance to illustrate that from another point of view: one of the biggest reasons she loves Jeff is because of the way he opened her eyes to a whole new way of looking at the world. Almost nothing would make me happier than a woman saying the same about me.

Last, but certainly not least, is Alex. I saved him for the end because anyone who has read Otherworld (or even my earlier posts about it) knows that Alex is simply me. He’s a genius whose favorite subjects are math and astronomy. He’s an overweight loner with major depression and a serious lack of self-esteem. He’s a guy who’s terrible at relationships and somehow finds himself falling into one. He is the author insert, and I won’t deny that.

Yet Alex still shows character growth. In that, he has become a kind of yardstick. He does the things I want to do, and I measure my success against what I’ve written for him. Ever since Situational Awareness, so much of his character arc has been about his flailing about in matters of love; while I never expected I’d have the chance to experience that when I wrote the story in 2016, that’s pretty much what happened. I’m sad to report that Alex handled it much better than I could.

Over the course of 32 stories and a million-plus words, he has reinvented himself. Sure, he lapses into “loner geek” mode on occasion, but at least he can get out of it. Although he continues to worry about how others see him, judging himself as he believes they would, he understands that his life has become better. For me, that would be the marker of true success: not only improving my lot, but recognizing and accepting that it has improved. As this new year dawns, and the first decade of Otherworld is nearing its end, I still can’t do that, so Alex remains a vision of what my life could be, what I would like it to be.

These seven aren’t the only perspectives in Otherworld, but they are the ones who received the most time on screen and the most dedication in my writing. For one such as me, seemingly destined to be alone and childless, they are my friends, my children. Because they, more than any other characters I’ve written, are pieces of me. They always will be. As Otherworld enters its tenth year, I see that more clearly than ever.

Character portraits: Levi

Name: Levi Maclin
Series: Orphans of the Stars
Age: 15
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 194 lbs.
Hometown: Vancouver, BC, Canada

About the character

Levi is a high school student and total space freak. Living in the 24th century, he still knows more about one specific part of the 20th than most people alive today, because he reads everything about our era he can get his hands on, at least if it’s about the space race.

But there’s more to him than that. The oldest of three, he’s the perfect age to be the family babysitter, so he’s used to watching over Justin, age 11, and six-year-old Holly. He doesn’t mind, though. They’re not just siblings; they’re his friends, too.

At home in Vancouver, he sometimes gets a little lazy, especially in summer. He’d rather read or watch a movie than get out and play with other boys his age. School, in his opinion, is for learning more than socializing. That’s not to say he doesn’t have friends. He’s made a lot of them, in fact. Something about him just makes it easy to like him.

If anything can describe Levi Maclin, it’s that he’s a dreamer. He dreams of going into space, even if it’s nothing more than a simple lunar shuttle ride, something people in his time do every day. In his wildest dreams, he’s the captain of an interstellar ship, saving the galaxy and discovering new worlds for humans to colonize. Maybe even walking on the surface of those worlds, meeting aliens no human has ever laid eyes on.

Too bad only adults get to do all that, right?

Author’s thoughts

Levi shares my love of space. Indeed, that was the first bit of characterization I did for Orphans of the Stars. I chose him as the main character of the series before deciding on placing him as the prologue character for Innocence Reborn, and that comes solely because I wanted the captain of the “kids’ ship” to be a space nut like myself. It fits the setting, I think. Sure, people in his time have done a lot better with space than ours are willing to do, but that just gives him more imagination fuel.

Almost everything else about his character came from my initial vision for the series. I wanted something focused a little earlier than the typical young adult fiction: teens and preteens, for the most part. (In my head, I envisioned Orphans of the Stars as “The Expanse for kids”.) The main character, then, had to be one of the older ones, but not too old. I gave him siblings so he would have skin in the game, so to speak. Rescuing Holly became the main goal of the first novel as I was writing the prologue.

Levi isn’t exactly like me, though. He’s far more impulsive, for one thing. He doesn’t always think things through, while that’s something I pride myself on. He’s more sociable, as well, with that kind of magnetism I’d kill for. Being who he is, he doesn’t use that gift for ill, however; for some strange reason, I’ve avoided giving him anything close to a romantic interest, even though his preteen brother gets one! Maybe some part of me recognizes our similarities.

When I started the series in 2017, I didn’t see myself as commanding in the same way Levi is. Either I’ve changed, or writing him has helped me understand myself. Yes, I’m often ready to take charge (if people would just listen to me…), but I never felt that I could be a commander of anything. It didn’t fit me until a very special person helped me understand a part of my personality I’d overlooked.

Character portraits: Alex

Name: Alex Caulson
Series: Otherworld
Age: 22
Height: 5’9″
Weight 206 lbs.
Hometown: Pueblo, Colorado

About the character

Alex is a self-described nerd. He’s overweight and insecure. He likes video games, anime, electronics, and other geeky things. At the start of Out of the Past, he holds a bachelor’s in astronomy, a subject that has always been his passion. As history is another one of his interests, he’s trying to specialize in the field of archaeoastronomy, which is how he got roped into an archaeological excursion to Mexico in the first place.

But he doesn’t fit there or anywhere. He never has, and he knows it. Almost all the friends he’s ever had were online, and he met most of them while gaming or on obscure forums—the only reason he even has social media accounts is to keep up with his family. He keeps to himself, rarely speaking up even when he probably should.

When he and ten fellow students get lost while investigating their earth-shattering find, he blames himself. After all, it was his idea to go back out there a day early, before the experts leading the team were willing to set out. Though the others don’t blame him, he blames himself. Why? Because, in his mind, he deserves the blame. If they won’t give it to him, he’ll just take matters into his own hands.

Of the eleven members of the Otherworld expedition, he’s the most out of place. A gamer and internet junkie suddenly cut off from everything electronic that he wasn’t carrying? A fat geek (his words) stuck in a place where everyone walks? He would consider it a miracle that he survived the expedition, but he doesn’t believe in miracles.

Author’s thoughts

Quite simply, Alex is me in almost every respect. He’s younger, of course (22 to my 30, when I first started writing Otherworld), and he has more formal education, but we’re otherwise a lot alike. We’re both huge nerds—in more ways than one. We both read a lot of science fiction. I’d never been in a serious relationship when I created him in 2013; his first started in the summer of 2020, around the same time I was beginning to throw mine away.

That’s absolutely intentional on my part. I wrote Alex as something between a personal deconstruction and wish fulfillment. I’ll grant that the latter took over after a certain point; that point, in case you were wondering, was around Situational Awareness.

In other words, Alex began as a representation of who I saw myself as. Now, as I’m writing the 20th main Otherworld story, I see him as who I want to become. He’s happily married, two words he never would have dreamed could describe him. Though he’s had to sacrifice almost everything he had, he was able to build a life for himself. A simple life, but a life nonetheless. He didn’t realize what he was missing, how important it was to his well-being, until he found it, lost it, and found it again. I…have only made it to the second step of that process.

Of the hundred or more characters I’ve written, this is one of the easiest. The dialogue and exposition don’t always flow, but the inner monologue is easy: I just write what I would be thinking in that situation. That’s usually what Alex would be thinking, so it works out. I can put him into situations and draw on my own experiences to resolve them. Not only does that save me time as a writer, but it’s cathartic for me as a person. It lets me imagine a world in which things actually work out for me once in a while.

Parts of the whole

(I’m in the aftermath of a mental breakdown this weekend. Reflection and introspection are the ways I cope, so you get this. Enjoy.)

“Write what you know,” the saying goes. It’s one of the seminal pieces of advice given to budding authors, and there’s a lot of truth in it. Obviously, it’s easier to write situations, characters, and stories that are familiar. More outlandish people and places need more thought, more planning. That’s why you see a lot of authors working on dramas, “slice of life” stories, recollections of childhood, etc. By contrast, fantasy and science fiction, two genres that imply outlandishness by their very nature, are very much niches. They just take more work to create.

Of course, it’s also easy to go too far in the other direction, to create something too familiar. Writing only what you know is great if you’re writing an autobiography, but you have to think outside the box for fiction. After all, the whole point of fiction is that it didn’t happen. And it most certainly didn’t happen to you.

In my works, I try to strike a balance. Obviously, as I write speculative fiction of various sorts, I have to do the research and contemplation of creating a setting unlike our present-day world. That has taken me down some strange and wonderful roads in the past decade, from the settling of the Americas (Otherworld), to paranormal sightings and hybrid DNA (Endless Forms), to the logistics of interstellar travel (Orphans of the Stars), to Biblical scholarship (Heirs of Divinity), to the nature of dreams (Before I Wake). It’s been a fun journey, I have to admit.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the other side: my characters. In particular, I want to look at a certain subset of characters who best illustrate writing what I know.

Birds of a feather

They’re all the same, when you get right down to it. A very common theme in my works is…well, me. Not as a self-insert or Mary Sue, but a character who embodies a part of me. I’ve written before how the main POV characters of the Otherworld series are all different facets of me, and that’s true to an extent. But there’s a broader correspondence, too.

Many, though not all, of the stories I write will, at some point, feature a character who represents how I see myself: an intelligent, luckless, socially awkward or rejected, insecure male. I’ll freely admit that I sometimes dwell on those characters, giving them more screen time and deeper subplots. That’s because I’m writing what I know. I can get in their heads better, because they’re closer to who I am. Many of them also end up with “good” endings, and you can call that wish fulfillment if you like.

In contrast to these self-portraits, I’ll often have a character who is, in essence, the man I wish I could be. This character is still highly intelligent (I’m not good at writing below-average individuals), but he’s not necessarily a genius. Despite that, he has the confidence I lack, and he’s often in much better shape physically, socially, or financially. He also gets plenty of time as the center of attention, and he often has conflicts with the other sort of self-insert, but they’re often of the “friendly rivalry” sort.

With that in mind, I’m going to go through some of my works, whether novels, novellas, short stories, or the major series so dear to my heart. For my own peace of mind, you see.


Otherworld is where I first noticed this tendency. As it’s by far my largest series, that makes a lot of sense. Alex has been one of the central characters since the beginning, and he’s probably the most transparently like myself. He’s your stereotypical geek, caught in a bad situation due to what he believes is his own bad luck and poor choices. (About the only place where we disagree is that he’s into anime and manga.)

Over the many, many stories of the Otherworld series, Alex certainly grows the most of any character. He already suffered from some depression issues even before he and his team were accidentally sucked into another world, but the rigors of living there didn’t help at all. He wasn’t used to physical exertion, he didn’t think he could learn another language, and he knew he was a poorer fit for the strange land of Vistaan than he was even in America. Witnessing the death of a native friend broke him, as he would tell you. At least he knows what caused it. Some of us aren’t so lucky.

Alex’s rival, of a sort, is Jeff. He’s still the nerdy type, and he’s far from outspoken, but he knows his role, and he excels at it. Jeff is the linguist of the group, and only really part of that group because they needed more interpreters. Going to another planet scares him as much as anyone else, yet he manages to keep it together.

These two grow close as time goes on, as they see themselves as similar enough that they could be friends. But their fates diverge. Jeff is seduced by a native woman; Alex assumes none of them would give him the time of day, the same as their counterparts here. Alex’s best claims to fame out there are determining their latitude and becoming a math tutor, while Jeff works on decoding the language of the ancient race who may have built the device that brought them there in the first place. In every case, you see the dichotomy: Jeff has humility, but Alex has self-loathing. Who I want to be, who I believe I am.

Hidden Hills

The Hidden Hills series is a little like Otherworld. Despite only being two books so far, and four total, there’s a lot of character development packed into those 1300 pages. And I made the same character decisions, just transplanting them into the pseudo-fantasy setting.

For these novels, we have Asho and Gallan. One is a tradesman, working as an apprentice smith under his father. The other is a junior scholar. Both are well aware of their corresponding places in the feudal-era society they inhabit, but they take those places much differently.

Gallan can comport himself well. He can talk to the nobility. He can do research. He knows how to manage, delegate, and lead. In the underground lair of the so-called wizards, he becomes the man in charge even before he becomes a man. Asho, meanwhile, never feels right. He doubts himself when it comes to building the machines of the wizards. He sometimes feels that even his little sister, only eight years old at the start of the first book, is more useful in the circle that he and his friends have created. And he’s scared to death when his mother works out an arranged marriage on his behalf.

These two aren’t the perfect metaphor that Otherworld provides, but they stick out to me. I’ve written two characters, one of whom is everything I want: a leader, a scholar, an inventor. The other? He doesn’t know what he wants to be, but he’ll be happy if he just doesn’t disappoint anybody.

Orphans of the Stars

My newest release, Innocence Reborn, doesn’t offer quite the same set of characters. I consciously tried to avoid the trap I’m describing here. Still, Levi is very much an idealized version of myself. He has the take-charge attitude I long for, though he also suffers from bouts of indecision and doubt.

Probably the closest to my self-image is Mika. Odd, as I don’t connect with my female characters to the same extent, but she shares a few of my demons. By the fourth book (which I’m currently writing), she’s deep in depression, and already past the breaking point. Not great for a fifteen-year-old girl. Not great for the 36-year-old man who first imagined her, either.

It’s harder to see, but this introspection has let me realize the similarities, and how I’ve been unconsciously steering Mika into more of a catharsis role as the series has progressed. Now that I know, I’m not sure what that will mean for her character development, but time will tell.

All the rest

My other works don’t possess the contrast, but one trope or the other almost always appears. I’ll treat the rest of the set together here, just for interests of space.

  • The Linear Cycle, being an apocalyptic fantasy, doesn’t have much time for doubters. Everyone has to work together to fight back the horde and keep society from falling apart. Still, Tod has a lot of the same qualities as, say, Alex. He’s a social outcast for a different reason, one specific to the setting, but it leaves him in much the same predicament.

  • Before I Wake‘s protagonist Jay fits the “insecure and inward” mold to some extent. As I wrote this novel following some deeply personal tragedy, I can only chalk that up to self-insertion. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to write very original characters, and the plot was, to me, more important.

  • In Nocturne, Shade is very much an authorial voice, at least in terms of his philosophy. As a person, he may represent some part of me, probably the part that feels like I’ve been rejected by society. Other than that, he’s like me only in his drive and his love for his ideals. But that’s still a lot.

  • Fallen, my free novella, follows Lucas, a tech who’s just been fired, who knows he’s a pariah because of his lack of faith. Well, that’s just me in a nutshell. (Okay, except the “getting fired” part. You have to get hired first.) You’ll get no argument from me there—it was mostly intentional. And Fallen might be the closest thing I’ve written to a personal fantasy. Meeting a perfect, indeed angelic, woman and falling in love with her? In late 2017, I would’ve killed for that. In 2020, I can say I got what I wanted. Next time I write a fantasy that’s going to come true, I’ll make sure it has a longer ending.

Most of the others are longer stretches. You could make a case that Dirk from Modern Minds fits the “how I see myself” mold in some fashion. You could also say the same for Luis from Heirs of Divinity…if I ever put that one out. And the Occupation trilogy almost pulls off the twofer. Main character Raneph is a Shade-like idealist and revolutionary, while humble helper Anit just wants to learn all he can without rocking the boat. (Or getting magically bound to the bed by his lover, but that’s another post.)

This has been a long post, and I’m trying hard not to make it even longer. But I needed to write it, whether anyone ever reads it or not. And if you’ve ever wondered why some of my characters are the way they are, this is my reasoning. They’re me. In some form, they’re always me. Because that’s what I know.

On diversity in fiction, part 2: Case study

In this second part of my brief exploration of diversity in media, I put my money where my mouth is, examining my own works as proof that I live up to my own standard. For each of my “major” settings (which have—or will have—multiple books), I look at the characters through the lens of the diverse, and I explain why I made the choices I did.

Obviously, as this post concerns deep introspection of my writing, it will have spoilers. If you want to read any of the works I describe, check out my Patreon for more information.


Otherworld is my most developed setting. Its premise is that a team of archaeologists take their students to Mexico on a dig in the summer of 2019. They uncover a lost pyramid deep in the middle of nowhere, and it is conveniently aligned so that a hole in the domed top allows the sun to shine directly down on the summer solstice. After a storm drives them away, a subset of the dig team returns to watch the astronomical event, and they are transported to another planet populated by the descendants of a group of Paleo-Indians who left the Americas near the end of the Ice Age. The following 22 stories (so far!) describe the world, its inhabitants, and the unique challenges it creates for the protagonists.

The dig is organized by an American university (Arizona, to be specific) in modern times. Thus, it is diverse out of necessity: political pressure ensures that women are well-represented. Thus, of the 11 who travel to the Otherworld, 5 are women. Two are non-white. Ramón is a Mexican freshman who was offered a place on the team in exchange for being an extra translator. Damonte, I’ll admit, did begin in my mind as the “token black character”. But then, as I delved deeper into the story, I reimagined him as aware of that. He cultivated the image, if only because he thought it was funny when he didn’t act like he “should”.

In a way, Otherworld shows both sides of what I’ve been saying. The diversity is by force, but within the context of the story; for me, it developed mostly naturally. The characters from Earth are normal people. They live in our world. Ashley is a feminist, and she comes out as bi in the sixth story (Situational Awareness). But that’s not because I was pressured by the LGBT community, or because a producer told me I had to include a non-straight character. No, I thought that was the best direction to go. And while she does let it begin to overpower her thoughts, that’s her reaction to finally being among people who let her express her true self.

On the other side of the galaxy, things are a bit different. The Otherworld’s people are not like us, except insofar as they are human. They have different views, and much of the conflict comes from this kind of cultural impedance mismatch. The natives are descended from indigenous Americans of millennia ago, long before the Conquest. They see race in a different light. Those who look the most unlike themselves (Jeff, Ayla, Jenn, and, to a lesser extent, Sara) are viewed as something else. As the natives only have their own histories for guidance, they interpret blond and red hair on white skin the only way they know how, which becomes another main source of trouble.


Nocturne continues to by, in my opinion, the best novel I’ve ever written. I do have ideas for a sequel or two, but those won’t come for a few years. Until then, I only have a single book to extrapolate from, but here goes.

Basically, Nocturne is an allegory for race relations in the US in 2016. That was the backdrop for its writing, and it was largely my intent from the start. The story’s kingdom of Velin is home to three races: the fairly normal skyborn; the almost Aryan dayborn; and the pale-skinned, black-haired nightborn. These subdivisions, however, are not hereditary. In that, they more closely match other intrinsic factors such as orientation. The nightborn are most reviled, owing to their inherent magical abilities of stealth and secrecy.

The protagonist of the story, Shade, is unique in possessing both the abilities and appearance of the nightborn, but also the magics of the dayborn, all of which are associated with light, life, and heat. Thus, he is a kind of fulcrum character, a center point on the spectrum, and his mission is one of moderation. He wants to stop the endless strife of the races by showing that they can unite. (This, by the way, mirrors my own belief in the folly of partisan polarization.)

Beyond his realm, however, others exist, and these offer more “traditional” concepts of race. The southern land of Duravi, for instance, is well-known to Shade’s people; it’s a kind of Africa analogue. Distant Fernicia is a fairly generic Orient mostly based on China. The Northlands are home to, in essence, Vikings. But none of these play much of a role.

Nor do sex and gender. Velin is mostly blind to those by design—I wanted to focus most on the race aspect. So Kellis, the secondary protagonist, is a female police investigator, and she is not special for that. She is treated no differently, for good or ill, than her male counterparts. Others she meets do remark that she is a woman, because that’s what they see, but even the most radical feminist shouldn’t find fault in my portrayal of her. Her worst sin might be using a dinner date to lure a suspect into an interrogation.

Endless Forms

The Endless Forms series is my paranormal detective thriller playground. It’s got Bigfoot, werewolves, and all sorts of unnatural phenomena. (The second entry, the forthcoming The Beast Within, even has an oblique reference to Otherworld, one of the few times I’ve done that.) Our star here is Cam Weir, who just so happens to be a straight, white man from just outside Atlanta.

Nothing about the premise requires that. Indeed, for the first half of the initial novel, The Shape of Things, he’s almost the only white character in evidence. Investigating the paranormal in Atlanta requires being in Atlanta, and the inner city is very diverse. It was when I spent a summer night in 1996 riding around as my mom tried to find an all-night tattoo parlor (don’t ask), and everything I’ve seen points to it only becoming more so in the decades since.

Thus, I see Endless Forms as a good illustration of what I mean by “natural” diversity, at least as far as race is concerned. Cam’s white, but his neighbor Darrell isn’t, and neither really cares. They’ll joke about it, but that’s as far as it goes, because they’re friends. The psychic he goes to for advice has a mixed ancestry he can’t place (Cajun and Caribbean, mostly), but that’s his problem, and he doesn’t hold it against her. If anything, the biggest culture clash comes from this Southern boy traveling to Boston.

Men and women alike see the spooky ghosts and other creatures Cam hunts. The friends he meets on his Bigfoot chase are all men, but that’s because they’re bros. It happens. Other applications of diversity haven’t come up yet, but I’ll take them as they come.

Orphans of the Stars

My child-focused sci-fi/space opera series Orphans of the Stars again follows this rule. Sixteen young people are stranded on a ship, and 9 of them are boys. Random samples can be like that. Most are white or Asian, while one is of Middle Eastern descent, but the story takes place about 500 years in the future, where race just isn’t that big a deal. (That’s basically what I was referring to in the last post: space colonies in this setting, while still horrendously expensive, are cheap enough that a sufficiently motivated group can create their own.)

Issues of sexuality are also background information, but that comes from the characters. They’re children. With only a few exceptions, they’re not even that old. (Their ages range from 9-16 at the start of the story.) Some of them have all the hormonal problems of teens, but it just isn’t important for them, not when survival is at stake. Whether you like that boy on the bridge or the girl down in engineering doesn’t matter much when you just learned your parents are dead. Hanna, the oldest and most mature of the girls onboard the ship, is bicurious, but that’s about as far as the story needs to go.

Then again, these are children. The difference between boys and girls is stark in their eyes. As their eyes are the ones through which the story unfolds, that means I write about their feelings on the matter—Tori, for instance, has an irrational dislike of boys, and she lets that show. But they all recognize the difficult situation they face, so such distinctions naturally fade into the background. Nobody is chauvinist enough to say Mika, a 14-year-old girl, isn’t fit to be an engineer. And if the command crew is largely male, that’s only because they were the ones who took the seats. Except for those just mentioned, most of the girls are younger, or they just don’t like being in space to begin with.

Occupation Trilogy

The Occupation Trilogy is a newer, more epic fantasy series I’ve been working on this year. The first novel, Shadows Before the Sun, is about two-thirds done, so I’ll probably release it sometime in 2019. But I can already say a little about the world from a diversity standpoint.

Mostly, the premise is thus: a colonial power similar to 18th-century Britain has taken over a distant land, and some of the locals are not too happy about it. A generation ago, the kingdom of Laurea invaded their home; the war of conquest lasted six years. They imposed their politics, government, religion, and very way of life on the natives of Ihnet. Most of all, they outlawed magic, because the religious teachings of Laurea forbid it.

This, then, has all the hallmarks of colonialism, and you probably know what that means for diversity. The series has two main races, the invaders and the natives. They view the world through different lenses. Ihnet’s women fought with magic alongside the men; Laurea sees the martial solely as the domain of men. Racial politics are vital to the story, and I choose each character’s race (and ancestry, as there are many of mixed descent) with care.

But this isn’t a series meant to make progressives happy. There are good guys and bad guys on both sides, and not all of them are guys. Men are overrepresented among the characters of Laurea, but that is because of the nature of colonization: many are ex-soldiers who settled down in this new land, took native brides (not always willingly), and started their lives anew.

On the contrary, the Occupation Trilogy mostly concerns itself with the very real factors of society. Whose side are you on? Are you with us, or against us? Both the occupying force of Laurea and the resistance of Ihnet believe there can be no middle ground, no compromise. All other problems are secondary to that, though this may change as the series progresses.


My other works either aren’t as fleshed out, or just don’t offer the same depth of worldbuilding. Thus, I’ll treat them here in much less detail.

  • Hidden Hills: This series, beginning with Lair of the Wizards, is set in a generic quasi-Renaissance fantasy land. As it is fairly small in scope at present, issues of diversity aren’t really important to the narrative. The culture is late feudal, so the treatment and disposition of women can come up, but really not.

  • The Linear Cycle: This one’s post-apocalyptic. One of the premises of the genre is that the traditional divisions of society break down out of necessity. Other than that, there’s not a lot of room to delve into such matters, if only because the action is first and foremost.

  • Heirs of Divinity: One of these days, I’ll release this one. Until then, know that it’s set in 1737, and I endeavored to make that time as realistic as possible. It’s a little more liberal than the real thing, but the story otherwise follows real history, with all its attendant foibles, wherever it can.

  • Gateway: This one starts with The Soulstone Sorcerer, which I’ll put out next year. It’s a typical RPG fantasy world combined with modern Colorado. Much like Otherworld, the diversity comes from the Earth characters, while the secondary world follows its own rules.

  • Before I Wake, Fallen, Modern Minds: These don’t have enough characterization to even worry about diversity. In most cases, the characters of any specific story are just about interchangeable.


In this post, I hope I have explained my reasoning, my argument for a more natural sort of diversity in fiction. In every case, I strive to write what feels right. I don’t set out to solve the world’s problems, or empower a generation, or anything of the sort. My characters, I believe, should be those who best fit the story, the world, they inhabit. Whether or not that matches another person’s idea of diversity never plays into my decision. The story is bigger than me, bigger than my prejudices. I would like to believe that others feel the same about both my works and their own.

On diversity in fiction, part 1: Opinions

No matter where you go in the world today, diversity is a word on everyone’s lips. Love it or hate it, the concept has, thanks to a particularly vocal segment of society, become a fact of modern life. And that has spilled over into fiction of all sorts. After all, stories are ever a reflection of an author’s worldview, so it stands to reason that something so prominent finds its way into anything we write.

In this two-part post, I’d like to offer my opinions on diversity as it pertains to fiction in various sorts of media. That includes the written word, video games, movies, television, and even theater. Anywhere a story must be written, it seems that the writer must take diversity into account, and I feel there are right and wrong ways to go about that.

For this part, I merely want to speak what I believe. In the following entry, which I will post next week, I will then look at my own efforts as a kind of case study for what I feel to be the most appropriate method of dealing with the concept.


First off, let me define what I mean by diversity. In this context, I refer to people, or rather characters, who show visible differences in what might be termed intrinsic factors. These are the divisions we’re most familiar with, the ones most evident in appearance or association, and those that are hardest—if not entirely impossible—to change. Race, sex, religion, national origin, culture, and sexual orientation are some of the most common. (Gender, as it exists in a social context, has become a bit more involved, but it works essentially the same way for our purposes here.)

Nothing in a fictional work should, in my opinion, give a reader, viewer, or player the impression that the author sees those who vary from the norm in a negative light. (Unless, of course, that is the true purpose of the work, as in extremist literature of all sorts.) The purpose of fiction is to create a story. Thus, the best authors leave their biases at the door, so to speak.

The fictional world—the secondary world, as some call it—can have its own biases, and those may be different from our primary world. In that case, it is the writer’s responsibility to explain those differences, those biases, in a way the is both entertaining and enlightening. If there is to be a message, then let it stand on its own merit. That goes for diversity as well as its lack.

The use of force

And this, I feel, is where so much modern media has gone astray. Too often, we see authors and screenwriters “force” diversity where it detracts from the story being told. As Hollywood has become far too fond of reboots and reimaginings, we can watch this unfold on a daily basis. In only the past year, I’ve seen reboots and story concepts that, for diversity’s sake, promise to change a character’s race (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), sex (the oft-rumored “female James Bond”), gender (Supergirl), and orientation (Star Trek).

My question is a simple one, yet one that would likely lead to my firing if I worked at one of these studios: who wins? If the object is to show that women/people of color/LGBT/whoever can be protagonists, then shoving them into roles defined by someone who is one of straight, white, or male can only be considered a failure. If your argument is that marginalized groups deserve their own heroes, then make them some heroes. Don’t try to remold preexisting heroes into a more diverse image for the sake of diversity. That, to use a term these people like, is no different from cultural appropriation.

The problem, as I see it, boils down to polarization. One side wants to see more diversity, and they’ll stop at nothing to achieve that goal. But those who don’t seek diversity in and of itself are then pushed to the other side, lumped in with white supremacists, homophobes, etc., for no reason other than they are not sufficiently progressive. Conversely, they then become shunned by those same elements for being too progressive. And the gap only continues to widen.

A better approach

Instead of this increasing bifurcation of society, I think a far better approach, at least regarding the creation of fiction, can be had by writing in a natural, organic fashion. Instead of forcing diversity, keeping quotas of minorities and the like, look at the story as a whole, the world it creates.

For fiction set in the real world of the present, this is almost too easy. We have demographics at our fingertips, so it’s not too hard to make a story that is both diverse and true to life. Historical fiction needs a little bit more work, but some common sense can tell you that it’d be silly for, say, Thor or Achilles to be black, or Guan Yu to be white. (Sexuality, especially in ancient times, is a whole different ballgame, particularly once you leave the familiar Christian West.)

Constructed worlds bring their own rules. In fantasy, you can make a case for just about anything. The men of Middle-Earth are white, if only because they are explicitly contrasted with the southern Haradrim. Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage series has a race of “savages” that, upon further inspection, are not African in appearance, but…ginger. Female warriors abound in literature—Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones) is the example most pertinent for TV audiences. Non-heterosexual relationships aren’t at all uncommon. And a good author lets all that fade into the background unless it’s absolutely pivotal to the story.

That doesn’t even get into the possibility that other races might have differing notions of what constitutes diversity, or different intrinsic factors. One can easily imagine polyamorous elves, matriarchal orcs, or shapeshifters to whom the very concepts of race and gender are nonsensical. A fictional world with multiple races and sub-races might have an incredibly complex system of lineage and rights, but equally plausible is the idea that diversity plays by different rules. If there are beast-men living in the next country over, then why are we so worried about skin color?

Science fiction set in the future brings its own baggage. Although I do love The Expanse (except for the very depressing Persepolis Rising), this is a case where I feel it breaks the rule of organic diversity. As far as I can tell, seven books have produced one stable, monogamous, straight couple for a major character: Duarte, the current villain! Race is also hopelessly muddled (one of the series’ main points, to be fair), and the whole thing sometimes comes off as an experiment in throwing as many diversity-friendly adjectives as possible into a character. “Oh,” I can imagine the authors saying, “we don’t have a half-Asian transgender character yet. Let’s get right on that.”

In the future, we can imagine the boundaries of the present falling down. But it’s no less a stretch to imagine them rising back up. As humanity expands its reach—and especially if it expands into space—communities might become more monolithic, rather than more diverse. If anyone can found a space colony, why wouldn’t a group experiment with a “pure” society? Human nature tends towards mild xenophobia. We like being with people who look like us, talk like us, believe the way we do. That’s why we’ve created echo chambers on the Internet, and it’s why you shouldn’t feel bad positing, say, a Nazi colony on Mars. (Now, I wouldn’t want to read about that, much less write about it, but you do you.) On the other hand, liberalism, multiculturalism, and globalism are on the upswing right now, and projecting that into the future seems like the safer bet.


Whatever your genre, whatever your medium, diversity should not be a goal in itself. Instead, natural storytelling should create diversity where it is needed, where it is expected. New York City and San Francisco today don’t have the same demographics as 13th-century London or 1st-century Palestine. Rather than attempt to check all the boxes, think about what characters would be where. Put them where they belong, rather than where society wants them to be.

Now, if the purpose of the story is to tell of a character or group’s struggle against adversity because of their intrinsic properties, then that’s okay. Slaves in the antebellum South are going to be black, no question. Medieval women will have a harder time than their modern counterparts, and a story focusing on them can certainly have a higher female:male ratio. A story that focuses on the X% doesn’t have to follow statistics.

Really, a story for the general populace doesn’t, either. Diversity is fine. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a master spy who happens to be a woman. There’s no reason why a superhero can’t be black, or trans, or whatever descriptor you want to give them. But you shouldn’t tout that as an accomplishment. Because it’s not.

It’s just who they are.

Thinking about thinking

The title of this post sounds awfully meta, doesn’t it? But it really is about writing and story creation. Particularly, it’s about a facet of character development that is often overlooked: thought.

Very many books (and other written-form stories, even including video games) let you get inside a character’s thoughts. They might be set off in italics, occasionally interspersed with the running narration, but it’s not that hard to find a story that gives you a direct link to someone’s thought processes. In some, it’s practically dialogue, albeit a one-sided dialogue. More of a monologue, if you will.

As with any part of writing, how much you use this particular storytelling device depends heavily upon the story you’re trying to tell. Some are far more amenable to extended thought-speech, while others do best with a more indirect approach that only vaguely refers to what is going on in a character’s mind. A few might even require something more heavy-handed; I can imagine a work (let’s call it avant-garde, or something pretentious like that) that is so based on internal monologues that they become the narration.

I don’t write stories like that, however, and you probably don’t, either. But adding a bit of thought (pun intended) can be a boon.


As I’ve stated before, my personal preference in narration is for a limited third-person perspective. With this style, we effectively see the story through the eyes of the character who is currently “in focus”, and the reader’s knowledge of others’ thoughts, feelings, etc., is mostly limited to what that character can perceive.

In this particular case, I think internal thought fits perfectly. We’re already in the character’s head, so to speak, so what would it hurt to let us hear their thoughts directly? It breaks up exposition that might otherwise be dry and boring, and it gives us a closer experience. We see through their eyes, and now we hear their thoughts. It’s almost natural.

In other styles, direct thoughts still work, but it takes more care. First-person stories can be tricky. With these, you’re already hearing straight from the character—that’s rather the point of the first person, isn’t it? It’s like the character is telling you the story, and how often do you mention direct thoughts when you’re telling a story? It’s not unheard of, but it is rare.

Beyond whether it’s a fit for your story, you also need to ask yourself if thoughtful monologues are appropriate for your characters. More introspective types will be more prone to thinking things through. The kinds who shoot first, by contrast, probably don’t have a lot of need for italicized paragraphs detailing their thought processes. (And that’s even a genre thing, too. A fast-paced thriller simply won’t have time for extended discourses that take place in a character’s head, while a thousand-page epic fantasy might easily slip too many of them into its length.)

Why not?

Is there a case to be made against using internal thoughts? Beyond the obvious (it doesn’t fit the story), I don’t think so.

Almost all of my works involve internal monologues, sometimes becoming quite extended, but with Nocturne, I made a conscious choice to avoid them. Most of the story is told from a first-person perspective, where, in my opinion, direct thoughts aren’t what is needed. (And, in fact, this perspective is supposed to be the main character telling his tale, so that’s another mark against direct thoughts, as I said above.) The third-person parts, on the other hand, should be a natural fit, but I refrained here, too, mostly because I didn’t feel they would mesh well with the rest of the book.

That’s a bit of a special case, I think. Mostly, the choice boils down to this: is the story better served by the reader having direct access to a character’s thoughts? A lot of narrative “tricks” don’t work well with that notion, including the ever-popular unreliable narrator. A mystery novel told from the detective’s point of view, on the other hand, might need the details so that the reader can follow the logical reasoning used to solve the case. And even a “solo” chapter, where only the focused character is present, could use something to break up what would otherwise be pages of exposition and description.

In the end, though, it’s up to you. Find what works best for what you are creating. Put yourself in your characters’ shoes. That’s usually a great idea, and so it is here.

Against omniscience

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, my preferred point of view, from a writing standpoint, is the third person. For Nocturne, I experimented with a first-person narration, and I have to admit that I did like it. It was fun, and I might try it again sometime. But the third makes up the majority of my writing, as I’m sure it does for most authors.

Specifically, for me, this is a “limited” third-person perspective: the narration has no knowledge outside that of the character in focus. Others might prefer the omniscient narrator, but I don’t particularly care for it (again, speaking only for my writing). Why? It’s hard to say, but I’ll give it a shot.

First and foremost, I do like to be challenged. That’s why I went with the first-person perspective for Nocturne, and it’s why I have no fewer than five current serials in various stages of development at the moment. Writing from a limited point of view is a challenge, because you have to consider how much a specific character knows. They won’t be able to read others’ thoughts (unless that’s the kind of story you’re writing), and they can only guess at emotional responses.

That brings me to the second point: the unreliable narrator. To be honest, it’s a bit of a crude rhetorical device, but it can serve a purpose when used judiciously. But you really can’t pull it off with an omniscient perspective. I mean, you can try, but I’m not sure it can be believable. If it’s clear that the unspecified narrator knows what lurks within the hearts of all the characters, how can that narrator then turn around and say, “Oh, no, I must have misremembered,” or words to that effect? That’s not unreliable—it’s outright lying!

Next on the list is kind of a combination of the previous two points. Writing from the character’s perspective, even if outside his thoughts, gives me a focus. It lets me tailor the narration to that specific character. Maybe they aren’t unreliable, but they do have their own lens through which they view the world. Here, I’ve written enough to provide examples. Some aren’t published yet, but that’s okay. They will be.

  • Kellis (Nocturne): Kellis is basically a fantasy cop. Her thoughts run along those lines, and narration follows along behind. Her chapters talk a lot about crime, discipline, order, etc.

  • Alex (Chronicles of the Otherworld): Alex is a nerd, geek, or whatever your favorite term is. (Basically, he’s me.) He’s also very rational, so his narration tends to focus on science and hard facts, rarely delving into speculation, but often argument.

  • Jarra (Lair of the Wizards): Being only eight years old at the start of the story, Jarra is tricky to write, but also unbelievably fun. Her parents are always referred to as “Mom” and “Dad”, she uses lots of emphasis on words, and the inner voice that is her narration is not above pouting.

  • Tod (Linear Cycle, Part 6: The Final Sacrifice): Tod lost his family, then watched as one of his last friends turned into a zombie, while her sister essentially killed herself in response. He’s deeply troubled, and he’s 17 years old. He’s going to be angsty, emotional, irrational, and I tried to make the writing reflect that.

With an omniscient perspective, I don’t think I could have pulled these off. My writing style simply depends on being closer to the characters than that perspective allows.

On the other hand, I have to admit that it does provide opportunities that my limited style doesn’t. For one, it’s really hard for me to do quick “flashes”, changing focus back and forth between characters. That’s why my writing tends to either have one POV (the Linear Cycle stories) or one per chapter (pretty much everything else). I did manage a few scene-break swaps in Before I Wake, and the finale for Chronicles of the Otherworld uses those exclusively, but inside a scene? Can’t do it.

Similarly, limited perspective is, well, limited. The same factors I spun as advantages above can become disadvantages in certain stories. Maybe you do need to show the inner thoughts of more than one character at a time. Maybe the story works better if it’s told by an all-seeing narrator. I don’t know, as I really don’t write that sort of fiction. I realize that’s a bit of selection bias: since I don’t write omniscient, what I write doesn’t make use of its advantages.

That’s just my personal style, though. Until last year, I didn’t think I could write something in the first person, either. I proved myself wrong, didn’t I? (Well, even Nocturne isn’t completely first-person.) So maybe I just need to try it out, and maybe I will at some point in the future. (Hey, that might be something for November!) Until that day, I don’t mind working within my limitations. They’re not that bad.

On characters you hate

As an author (I love saying that), I’ve written a lot of different characters. Most, of course, are the “background” types, what players of role-playing games would call NPCs. But a few of them get the limelight all to themselves. These are the “point of view” characters, the protagonists or whatever term you’d like to use.

The way I write, I prefer a style where the narration is from the point of view of the character in question. Usually, this remains in the third person (in Nocturne, the title character is first-person, but that was mostly an experiment), but it’s not the “omniscient” third-person of a lot of books, where the narrator knows everything. In my writing, the character in focus doesn’t hear other people’s thoughts, he or she doesn’t know for sure what’s in someone else’s head. On the other hand, this style makes it more natural, in my opinion, to get into that character’s head. I find it’s better for extended thought processes.

The characters fit the story, but they’re also people, and that’s important. Since I get a good look at their minds—and I provide this to my readers—I can see what they’re thinking, how they think. (Yes, I’m aware that I decide how they think. That’s not the point.) On a few occasions, I’ve found that I’ve written characters I simply don’t like. In at least one instance, I’ve created someone I hate.

Now, it seems pretty easy to write a character you hate, right? Just tell the story from the point of view of the villain. Write the inner narration of a psychopath, a murderer, a terrorist, somebody undeniably evil. Simple as that.

But it’s really not. Sure, that gives you a character who’s easy to hate, but if it doesn’t help the story, what have you accomplished? No, I’m talking here about a character who has naturally developed into someone you just don’t like. Since I use a more “organic” writing style, where I don’t do a lot of detailed planning, this happens more often than you might think.

I’ve written characters who are devoutly religious (including both earthly and fantasy religions). I don’t hate them for that; the way I see it, I have to respect their choice the same as any person in the real world. I’ve made rich or noble-born characters, but I don’t hate them.

No, this post came about because of a character from my Chronicles of the Otherworld series. Her name’s Ayla, and she was mostly a major NPC throughout the eight parts of that work. She started out as a kind of foil for one of the main characters. The way I wrote the series, though, she gradually changed, becoming more and more bitter about the situation she found herself in. Others reacted to that, and she reacted to them. (Her actions, in fact, were the catalyst for the entire sixth volume.)

At no point in the first 400,000 words of the series did I write the first word from her point of view. She was always seen from the outside, and the reader doesn’t get a look at her inner thoughts until the final chapter of the final part, and that’s only for a single scene lasting about three or four pages. After I wrote that scene, though, I realized how much I couldn’t stand her. She was insufferable, a know-it-all who saw herself surrounded by lesser minds, lesser people. (This makes more sense if you’ve read the series, but it’s not out yet. Sorry about that.) She’s blunt to the point of offensive, she only cooperates when there’s something in it for her, and she’s just a generally unpleasant person to be around. If I were the type to use such language, I could think of a few choice words to describe her.

And thus I’ve written myself into a corner, because there’s a sequel to Chronicles of the Otherworld. It’s “season 2” of the story, picking up a year later and building on the events of the first eight parts. In between, though, is something I’m calling A Bridge Between Worlds, a six-part anthology of short novellas that fill in the gaps. Four of those six stories are written for the four characters who (spoiler alert!) stay in the Otherworld rather than coming home. One of those is Ayla, which means I get to write the better part of 20,000 words stuck in the head of someone I’d rather not be in the same room with. Yay for me.

I do think it’s educational and even productive to write a character you truly despise. It’s different from writing one you simply don’t agree with. I’ve done that plenty of times, and it’s not too bad; the hardest part is forcing yourself to write things you think are wrong. (Another character in the series, Jenn, is one of those religious types that I can’t stand, and she can be a pain to write. Fortunately, I have a whole family of people just like her that I can draw on for inspiration.) But a character you hate is something else entirely. It’s a balancing act between the story’s needs and your own. I can guarantee you, for example, that there will be times I’ll want to write a gruesome death scene for my problem child. I know I can’t, though. I’ll just have to deal with her. Hey, it’s a learning experience.

On child characters

One of the more interesting challenges of writing in a “limited” style (i.e., not omniscient third-person) is getting into the minds of your characters. I don’t mind. In fact, I like it. I feel like it lets me try out new ways of thinking, of seeing the world. And nowhere is this more true than when I’m writing children.

This isn’t a purely theoretical exercise, either. My short story “Either Side of Night” is entirely written from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy caught up in events largely beyond his comprehension. A novel I’m writing features multiple POVs, and all of them are children when the story starts.

Of course, I’m not the only one. Plenty of authors write narrative through a child’s eyes, and some of the greatest fictional characters are young. Look, for instance, at Harry Potter, or half the cast of A Song of Ice and Fire. (Going strictly by the American standard of “under 18”, the kids narrating A Game of Thrones outnumber the adults!) I’m sure you can find plenty of others, and not just restricted to the young adult and teen fiction sections.

Eyes of a Child

Why, you may ask, should you bother writing from a child’s perspective? Well, disregarding the obvious answer of “it’s what the story needs”, I can think of a few reasons.

First, children can be more ignorant of the inner workings of the setting. To them, especially to the younger ones, everything in the world is mysterious or unknown. That’s exactly how a reader starts out, too. Your readers don’t know who the political factions are, or what the different schools of magic teach, or which of the gods is really an ascended human from a bygone era. By writing from a child POV, you can introduce a reader to the more complex parts naturally; they follow the same path as the character.

This works even better if you’re doing something training-based, like a magic school (Harry Potter), an apprenticeship travelogue (the first parts of Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man), or something of that nature. As the child advances in knowledge, so does the reader, and there’s no sense in them complaining about disbelief. Sure, it can be a slow reveal, but if that’s what you want, then it might be just what you need.

Second, children are innocent. This can be used by a writer in a couple of ways. It’s great for setting up good-versus-evil plot points, for example, because most kids won’t be able to discern the subtle shades of gray. And destroying innocence can be a powerful dramatic tool, as any fan of Arya Stark knows all too well. But children as characters can also keep things “light”. In escapist fantasy (as opposed to the gritty and grimdark types that are all too common these days), the child can be a kind of touchstone.

Finally, the third reason ties into both of the last two. Since children are less concerned with “adult” matters, as well as simply knowing less about them in general, that’s that much you don’t have to write about when they’re the center of attention. Kids aren’t going to be cynical and jaded. They won’t care about romantic and sexual relationships. They don’t have major responsibilities. Even the language you use for their narration can be simplified, especially if the child POV is only one of many.

Raising a child

The limitations, of course, are evident. Children don’t normally have the same opportunity for adventure. Their lack of responsibility is countered by a lack of ability, whether natural (kids aren’t as strong as adults) or social (kids can’t vote, drive, etc.), and this can hinder a story.

One easy way to circumvent some of those restrictions is to make the child “attached” to an adult in some way. Obviously, one possibility is traveling with their parents. Babysitters, master craftsmen, robot nannies, and royal servants all work just as well. No matter how you do it, since the adult and child are together, they’ll experience most of the same things. And then you have a quick and dirty way to increase dramatic tension by separating them.

At the other end of the spectrum are the children who are alone. Typically, these tend to be older, usually teenagers. That’s because they’re close enough to adulthood to interact with “grownups” on a more even footing, but they still haven’t lost all of their childlike nature. Runaways, orphans, and incoming students all fit this mold, and their stories will likely involve lots of social conflict, issues of acceptance, and such.

Speaking of conflict, the kinds children can be involved in are often entirely different from those of their elders…at least to start. There’s nothing stopping an adolescent from being the Chosen One; that’s basically Harry Potter. But you can’t jump right into the deep end there. Let kids be kids for a while, so that when they can’t, it’ll pack that much more of a punch. And always be aware of both the limits of youth, and its capacity for exceeding them.


Writing children can be tiring, and it may seem unrewarding. But it can also be loads of fun. Even if you’re creating something entirely serious, a well-placed child’s point of view can add a bit of levity, a dash of lighthearted escapism, or just a change of pace. Or it can be a heartbreaking look into a shattered world full of broken dreams. Your choice.

We connect with children on a biological level. It’s innate to empathize. That’s why their stories can be so powerful, so emotionally moving. Whether you’re writing light or dark, it’s something to think about.