How Health and Medicine Impact World-Building

Greetings! I’ve contracted a lovely 24-hour flu bug that has left me useless except for sitting around and drinking the Elixir of Life, Pepto Bismal. So of course, I opted to finish up a chapter of the upcoming second edition of Culture-Building From the Inside Out. It focuses on the use of health and medicine (feel free to appreciate the irony).

Here’s a free excerpt of the chapter for your reading pleasure. This week will feature a Friday Mirth, when I’m able to brain humor again.


Laughter is the best medicine. Or is it? Could you really create a culture where laughter heals all ills?

Of course you can! Because this is creating and we do things like that.

Medical care care and health care is a critical part of any culture. From how people treat the sick, to what is considered sick, to the ways of preventing being sick, there are plenty of things to consider, and plenty of ways to expand this area of culture to allow for more growth and opportunities for tension.

Now, of course, if your race is humanoid and you don’t want to focus on this, then go ahead and move onto the next chapter. However, consider carefully whether you want to give health and medicine a quick skim. You never know what could inspire a plot twist!

Medical help often comes in two flavors: traditional and scientific. For the fun of it, we’ll also toss in magical.

Traditional deals with what a culture has historically done for health and wellness. This can include folk or herbal remedies, as well as food or drink tonics. If it was passed down from generation to generation or made with a secret recipe by a great-grandma, it falls under traditional. This is also where healing techniques can overlap with religious beliefs.

Scientific deals with the advancements a culture is making in the field of medicine using the scientific method and modern technology. This often involves labs, microscopes, pills, technological devices, and paperwork. There is often a clash between traditional and scientific medical treatments, but there doesn’t need to be. Finding a way to have the two intermingle would be a fresh take on the material!

Magical deals with how magic interacts with the other two systems. It can stand apart as its own specialty, or be an aspect of another category of healing. Usually magic is intermingled with traditional healing methods, but there are possibilities to mix it with scientific. For instance, if magic on your world is defined as a neutral energy force that can be used for good or evil, then why can’t it be used to power modern medical technology? If your story defines magic as purely witchcraft, the bending of nature and creation to personal will apart from the divinely-appointed order, then that will take medicinal use in a different direction. Using magic for healing will likely mean some nasty side effects–or magic could even be the cause of the ailment.

Chronology is another important factor. Most histories have traditional methods come first, followed by scientific, following a natural sense of technological progression. However, it is also possible to have a technological regression. This is common in post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories. Scientific methods are a thing of the past, perhaps even equated with magic, and traditional medicine is the only possibility. You could also have a scientific society choose to explore traditional methods out of nostalgia or a desire to connect with a more spiritual, natural force of healing.

Preventive Measures involve what a culture does to prevent various ailments from occurring. This can be anything from vaccines, taking oil of oregano, or wearing certain colors. Note that preventative measures do not have to be particularly effective to be valued in the culture, and there is often controversy over which measures are more effective. In addition, preventative measures can move from being health-based to having other socio-cultural roles. One example is the wearing of surgical masks in some Asian cultures to combat poor air quality and the spread of airborne illness. Now masks have also become a way of avoiding contact with others, similar to putting on earbuds or headphones. There are even decorative masks featuring upscale designs or licensed pop culture characters.

Hope you found this helpful! Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, and keep an eye out for the second edition, with new content and a workbook! Also, check out more free information and excerpts from Culture-Building From the Inside Out.


Novella Review: “By Divine Right” by Patrick W. Carr

Willet Dura ekes out a living as an assistant reeve in the city of Bunard, the royal city, investigating minor and not-so-minor crimes in the poor quarter. Ever since a terrible battle, Willet’s been drawn to the dead, and has an uncanny ability not only to solve their crimes, but even to know when one has been committed.

When a gifted musician is found dead in the merchants’ quarter of the city, everyone assumes by the signs that the old man simply died of a stroke, but Willet’s intuition tells him better. When he learns that this is the second death within the last month of one of the gifted, those with a rare inherited ability, he begins to suspect that something more is afoot, and he soon finds himself chasing a mystery that could bring down the very kingdom of Collum (

I fell in love with Patrick W. Carr’s writing when I read A Cast of Stones. That was an epic fantasy, with a quest mentality and an intriguing plot involving religion, nobility, and destiny. While I didn’t love the ending, Carr did an incredible job with world-building and story-telling, making the story rich and nuanced, if a little top-heavy with plots.

By Divine Right, the intro novella to his new Darkwater Saga, dives into a fresh world with an equally gritty protagonist. Willet Dura is a thoroughly likable, grounded reeve with an enjoyable first-person narrative. He offers a classic underdog perspective, and Carr deftly ties in tantalizing elements of his backstory that give him depth, even in a novella.

The world-building is spot-on. Carr weaves a new, quasi-Christian religion into the existing quasi-medieval setting, and makes every aspect relevant to the plot. I enjoyed the way he explored the gifted within the concept of both faith and politics, and I’m excited to see what he has in store in the full first novel, The Shock of Night.

One downfall? The only female character. Now, this isn’t a book aimed at a female audience (although it hardly excludes them). Nevertheless, Lady Gael is presented as a mystery and a curiosity. She hints at intelligence, gives coy reactions, and clearly is on the right side, but she’s not even close to a developed character. Granted, it’s first person from Dura’s perspective, and narrow views are a weakness of first person. Still, I hope those teasing hints develop into more of an actual woman in the full-length book.

Final Verdict: a great start to a medieval-style detective saga, with a solid first-person narrative, engaging writing, and world-building that is thoroughly relevant to the plot. And since By Divine Right is free on Amazon  and on Barnes and Noble, go ahead, download, and enjoy!

Also, I’ll be reviewing The Shock of Night for the CSFF blog tour, so stay tuned!

Humor-Up With Cute Animals

I’m a natural scowler. I scowl when I’m thinking, I scowl when I’m bored, I scowl when I’m daydreaming, and yes, I’ve even scowled occasionally when I’m actually upset.

However, one thing that can make me laugh is a cute animal.

Animals are also GREAT to add to stories, especially for a dose of humor. And remembering that stories are a balance of disaster and hope, dropping in an animal friend or even the odd encounter with some kind of creature is a fantastic way to add a bit of lightness, especially if your characters aren’t especially light (or the situation is serious).

There is also a place for Cujo and other animals of doom, but that is another, far-less-humorous blog post.

In a more positive light, animals in stories can:

  • Bring out different sides of characters
  • Be an adorable catalyst for stuff to happen
  • Be a source of comfort and support
  • Give an opportunity to show a character as good (‘save the cat’ moment)
  • Soften or add depth to a villain
  • …be something to kill off if you need to add tragedy and can’t stomach killing a character (although be careful, because readers get attached to animals too)

So on this Monday of Mondays (all Mondays tend to be very Mondayish), I challenge any fellow writers to add a cute/friendly/otherwise semi-helpful animal to their story.

For those of you who have cute/friendly/otherwise semi-helpful animals as a part of your story, please feel free to share!

And for more photos, check out my Cute and Crazy Pinterest board, dedicated to “awww!” moments and goofy pets.

And if you’re into making up your own critters? The awesome Kat Heckenbach wrote an great intro blog post on Crafting Creatures at the Realm Makers blog. I also found this tutorial on 10 Steps to Creating Realistic Fantasy Animals.

Balance Your Plot With Disaster and Hope

It doesn’t matter how carefully you plot–your story will always surprise you. (Tweet This)

Sometimes those surprises are good. In the fantasy/suspense I’m writing, I had slated the main protagonist to face a terrible tragedy throughout the plot.

The tragedy got better. In one scene. Whoops! There goes that side plot!

Now I don’t always take plot surprises well. However, in this case my beta readers loved the plot twist. And after a skim of the outline, I realized why. This protagonist had been put through the wringer, and she was continually dealing with oppression from the Big Bad.

The plot twist gave hope. And in doing so, it also motivated me to keep writing. Hopefully? It will keep the readers going through the next disaster that the character will face.

Plots are a balance of disaster and hope. (Tweet This)

A lot of books and websites tend to focus on the disaster part, perhaps assuming that authors enjoy coddling their characters and so aren’t willing to make them hurt. While this can be a temptation, it can be equally tempting to veer too far in the other direction and leave out the hope. After all, the best way to end a scene is uncertainty, right? Ladle on the disaster and darkness and peril, and readers won’t be able to put it down.

But after a while? Darkness gets, well, dark. Sneaking in tidbits of hope, whether it’s a brief romantic moment, a few snarky one-liners, or even a spiritual realization, can give the reader just a bit more to go on, to cling to, while they ride out the next wave of frustration. And if you’re mean enough, you can create that moment of disaster by yanking away the hope. Just make sure there’s another hopeful moment coming on down the line.


  • The Hunger Games: Katniss meets Rue in the arena, and gets the brief reprieve of companionship.
  • Star Wars – The Empire Strikes Back: Luke survives confronting Darth Vader, AND gets a neat cyborg hand – which shows he is moving forward.
  • Les Miserables: Jean Valjean repeatedly has moments of peace and tranquility before the Javert tracks him down.

Depending on the genre? Some stories need more disaster (thrillers, suspense, dystopian). Others thrive on the hopeful moments (romance, comedy). But in most cases? You need a mix of both. It will help you and the reader keep turning pages.


Have you seen a movie, book, or television show that does this well? How about your own work? Please share!

7 People You Meet During NaNoWriMo

Greetings! I’m in the thick of National Novel Writing Month right now. Rather than report in about my own word count (*coughs*over 17,000 words, but nowhere close to starting the core of the book*coughs*) or my novel status (having a blast with hiccuping chickens), I’d rather send a little field report from what I’ve observed over the years I’ve either participated or observed this phenomenal, month-long event. I give you:

7 People You Meet During NaNoWriMo

1.) Word-Sprint Wizards – these dynamos are masterful at putting pedal to the metal in 30 minutes or less! When everyone else has 250 words after the 15 minutes is up, they have 500+! Bravo, wizards! You inspire the rest of us to keep going.

2.) Language Lyricist – they may not be the fastest writers, but when they post up snippets from their work-in-progress, the rest of us are in awe at the syntactical beauty. Lovely job! Reading your excerpts gives us beauty to appreciate, and encouragement to clean up our words after November.

3.) Awesome (Over)Achievers – it’s the end of week one and they’re at 40,000 words. These super-speedy writers leave our head spinning with their work ethic. Whether they’re trying to get out content really fast to have Thanksgiving Day free, or just doing a NaNoWriMo ultra-marathon, I say congratulations! Keep the finish line warm for the rest of us.

4.) Racing Rebels – whether writing fan-fiction, flash fiction, or any combination of non-traditional content, these writers are proud to follow their unique dreams to 50,000 words. High five, trail blazers! Write on.

5.) Manic Multitaskers – they work two full-time jobs, or have three kids, or are overseas serving on the mission field or military, or pulling double shifts as a nurse. Or any combination! These word masters are balancing a crazy amount of tasks and getting the job done (coffee must often be involved). Great hustle! We admire you for your dedication.

6.) Epic Editors – even though NaNoWriMo features their own editing month, you’ve chosen to make this one your time to shine and polish those words. Good for you! The rest of us will be in your shoes soon enough. Thanks for your word-smithing spirit!

7.) Chipper Cheerleaders – you’re not participating, but you have a friend/cousin/uncle/brother’s/former room-mate or some other sort of awesome relation participating, and you’re cheering them on! Thanks so much for the support. Writing is often a lonely gig, and we appreciate every bit of encouragement and enthusiasm you throw our way!

Can you think of any others? Please share!