Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Maria V. Snyder, Author and Instructor

As I start writing the first book in my third YA series, I'm constantly referring to the notes I've taken at Maria's workshops. I've been fortunate enough to hear her speak a number of times and most recently saw her at the Pennwriters Conference in May.

Maria V. Snyder is not only a well-known successful novelist, she’s an excellent educator and presenter. I’ve heard Maria’s presentations before at my local RWA’s meeting. She’s very generous with sharing her expertise. You can visit her website and find links to outlines of her workshops.

Maria’s two bestseller series are the ‘Study Books’ which were first released as fantasy and have now been promoted as YA fantasy. The ‘Glass Books’ are her second series and came out as YA fantasy and are set in the same world at her ‘Study’ series. Her newest release, Inside Out, is a futuristic YA novel. All her books have some things in common.

First is her intricate but not overly complex world building. In her fantasy novels there is of course magic in her worlds and many things unlike from our world but not so radically different to be confusing. Maria gives a list of dozens of questions that you must ask yourself about your fantasy world before you write it. Animals, weather, education, medicines, government, physical features, clothing and add to those how magic works and how it affects the world and the story. Then you must decide how you’ll introduce all the answers to those questions in your novel. Of course you don’t want to commit the sin of info-dump in the first chapter but you need to work it all in so the novel makes sense to the reader.

A few other tidbits Maria passed along had to do with language in your created world. She emphasizes readers don’t like to be confused so don’t make up a lot of new words. Call chocolate, chocolate. Avoid unpronounceable names for people, places or objects.

The other part of Maria’s presentation at the Pennwriters Conference was her ‘Show vs Tell’ presentation. You can read some of the examples she gives on her website. She also rolled a lesson about writing in scenes as part of this session. She explained scenes as mini-novels that must have a beginning, a middle and an end. They must start with a hook to engage the reader so they want to keep reading. If you’ve read her novels you know she does this very well because it’s very difficult to put any of her books down.

Maria also shared some scenes from her books to demonstrate how to use all the senses in a scene to draw the reader into the fantasy. Don’t rely alone on sight and sound but use smell, tastes and textures to give the created images more depth.

If you ever have a chance to hear Maria speak, you’ll walk away with at least one if not dozens of new ideas and thoughts on how to improve your writing. Visit her website to learn even more.

Have you ever read a novel with exceptional world building? Have you ever put a novel down because the names or worlds were so confusing?


  1. Excellent info! In my Steampunk I've made up quite a few inventions. The names were tough for a bit. I finally decided to come up with something similar to what we'd call the device today - same root word - or use a word that describes its purpose. Obvious while still being new. I hope! :)

  2. Sounds very clever. You're ahead of the game.

  3. She sounds like a great teacher. I'd like to read one of her books.

    Straight From Hel

  4. Her books are great, Helen. My teenage daughter and I both love them.

  5. Yes, I've become disinterested in books that used a world with too many hard-to-prounounce words. Names, places, or concepts. I like Jemi's technique best,I think.

  6. I just returned from the bookstore and was reading the first few pages in a SF book by a new author. There were so many 'made-up' words it was difficult to get the gist of the story. I'm with you on this, Madison.