The Rules Of Make Believe

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I write love stories with a supernatural or sci-fi twist. That means there’s always an element of fantasy in my books. From somewhere in the depths of my imagination, I always add in a touch of – what I affectionately like to call – a load of nonsense. But whilst it might seem easy to write fantasy, as you don’t have the rules of reality to abide by, actually it’s really hard – because you need to make up the rules yourself.

I love writing books with fantastical elements to them. I love that there is no limit on where a book can take us. You can make up aliens, ghosts, new planets, or even something no one would ever have even considered before. I think that’s tremendous fun, and I love to read about the paranormal as much as I love to write it. However, once you’ve come up with the ‘out of this world’ idea, you then need to make your own rules that apply. Within every level of existence, there has to be rules and restrictions. Without them it will make it very hard for your readers to buy into it, and it will make it very hard to write.

Setting the Rules

My first book, Bird, is probably the best example I can share of this. In Bird, I came up with the idea of creating a magical community called the Malancy. It’s modern day England and there is a secret group of people who all have magical abilities. They’re around us all the time but the general public don’t know it.

The first thing I had to decide on was what magic they could perform. What were the restraints, if any? Having restraints is actually really important. If your characters can literally do anything they want then it certainly makes it harder to put in the necessary conflict that you need to keep the action going. So I made some decisions on what they could and couldn’t do, and then whether there would be any exceptions to the rules. For anyone who’s read it, you’ll know that Simon, our male lead, is totally different to everyone else, thereby adding in a level of interest.

Law and Order

The next thing I needed to do was decide how this community operated. I quickly realised that having thousands of people roaming around who could perform spells, might need governing. So I created Malancy HQ, the people in charge of the Malancy and the people who set the law and order for the community. I even invented a Malancy prison.

The abuse of power seemed to be an area that was ripe for exploring in such a scenario, but if there aren’t any consequences, the stakes aren’t so high. So despite the fact that some of the characters are able to do pretty much anything, having set rules that they are forced to abide by gave it a level of drama.

Creating the World

As a writer, you need to know everything. You need to live and breathe the characters and fully understand what they’re capable of, and you need to know all the ins and outs of the world you’ve created. It has to be whole to you. However, despite the need for all this background work, there then only needs to be a certain element of your creation that you put in your story. Sharing all the nitty gritty can be terribly boring for a reader, and so you just need to share enough so you bring it all to life and it all makes sense. But without doing the background work yourself, you’ll never have full control of the story.


Doing this background work is even more important if you want to write a series. Consistency is vital. If you say things are impossible in book one and then characters freely perform such spells in book four, your readers will notice. It will ruin the story. By creating a robust and well thought through world, you’ll know for sure where you can take the action and how to develop the characters, and perhaps you can release more information about it all as you work through each part of the series.

I found that I had to know the Malancy inside and out to make it real, but there was so much in book one that I never touched upon. That meant when I decided to write a sequel it was relatively easy. There was so much story still to tell, and book three came immediately after. I also had the idea for book four pretty much straight away, but at the time I wanted to write other things. Now, knowing how many people have loved my first three books, I knew it was time to share the next part of Simon and Beth’s lives, and that’s what I’m working on now.

But even though this is a totally new story set years after the trilogy, I have still kept very much to the rules I created and it’s still very much the same world around them. But rather than that being limiting, it actually really helped. Use the rules to your advantage and create that necessary conflict. Once the world becomes real in your mind, it’s amazing where it can take you.

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