5 Tips on Writing About the Afterlife

Here's how to create great characters and setting in your book when writing about the afterlife (from bestselling author Gena Showalter).
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I’m Gena Showalter, the New York Times bestselling author of the Everlife series, where Firstlife is only a dress rehearsal and real life begins after you die. In Lifeblood, book two in the series, there are two afterlife realms in power, Troika and Myriad, and they are at war. Battles rages, and spirits die (again.) Meanwhile, these realms constantly work to recruit humans, determined to build their armies. The heroine, Ten Lockwood, is now tasked with winning over the most important players, the people who could help win or lose the war. Her biggest competition is Killian, a boy who lives in the other realm. He’s also the boy she loves. In order to make their love story work, I had to create two afterlife realms with equal appeal. Here's how to create great characters and setting in your book when writing about the afterlife.

This guest post is by Gena Showalter. Showalter is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over thirty books in paranormal and contemporary romances, as well as young adult novels. Her series include White Rabbit Chronicles, Angels of the Dark, Otherworld Assassins, Lords of the Underworld, Alien Huntress and Intertwined. Her novels have appeared in Cosmopolitan Magazine, and Seventeen Magazine, and have been translated all over the world. The critics have called her books "sizzling page-turners" and "utterly spellbinding stories," while Showalter herself has been called “a star on the rise.” Her book, Lifeblood, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @genashowalter.

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1. Create a solid foundation

As with any world in any book, I had to create a solid foundation, or theme, on which to build the afterlife realms. I like to think of it as building a house. If the foundation is sand, the house will fall when a storm comes. If the foundation is rock, the house will stand.

The entire Everlife series rests on the concept of good versus evil, light versus dark, kingdom versus kingdom. But who in their right mind would ever choose to live in the evil world? And yet, every day people make bad decisions that can ruin their lives. Right off the bat, I knew evil had to be seductive, and insidious, trying to pass itself off as good. On the other end of the spectrum, the light realm had to have its share of problems. Even good people make bad choices. [Like this quote? Click here to Tweet and share it!]

2. Build the frame

Readers need something familiar in order to visualize what you’re describing. That is why you must first craft the bare bones based on what they know. From there, you can put your own spin on the world, plot and characters.

Upon my good versus evil foundation, I created a familiar frame of good people in the light realm, and bad people in the dark realm. Twist: then I added good people in the dark realm, and evil people in the light realm. Now the reader can never know who is hero and who is villain.

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3. Add insulation

Once you have your foundation and frame, you can start adding new layers to your story arc, weaving world with plot and plot with character. "Each of your characters will need a goal, motivation and conflict."

In Firstlife, book one of the Everlife series, the heroine is faced with challenges. Goal: survive. Motivation: make her own choice about where to live after she dies. Conflict: she’s falling in love with the light realm while also falling in love with a boy from the dark realm. Who will she choice? Home or boy?

In Lifeblood, everything changes for her. Goal: learn the ropes in her new homeland. Motivation: the survival of her home and her family. Conflict: people she loves live in the other realm, and yet she’s supposed to be the architect of their demise?

4. Decorate

Weave in the five senses. As your characters “see” “scent” “touch” “taste” and “hear,” so will your reader. Consider every scene in your book a mini story of its own. It needs a foundation, a frame, insulation and decoration.

In Lifeblood, I gave the characters an Internet-type connection in their minds to heighten each of the five senses. Through this connection—which can be turned on and off at will—they can also communicate with each other, store information and weapons, and rays of light or even shadows, depending on their realm affiliation.

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5. Set house rules, and do not break them

Every fictional world requires rules, just like in real life. For your afterlife world, you’ve determined the theme, twisted the plot to make it unique, set the scene, and decorated. Now you need to know, among other things, what happens to characters if they die again. Can they be killed again? How?

In the Everlife series, characters that live in one of the afterlife realms can die again. In Troika, they enter into another realm known as the Rest and in Myriad, they are told their spirit returns to earth to “Fuse” with a human soul…but who is telling the truth and who is lying?


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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer's Digest and author of the popular gift bookOh Boy, You're Having a Girl: A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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