Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green..."

My school has finally started to slow down! Hurrah! Now I have more time for blogging! :)

To keep me blogging consistently I'm going to write a blog post, at least once a week, on fantasy world-building. World-building is probably the thing I have the most trouble with when it comes to writing. When I wrote 'Ember Flame', I didn't bother with world-building at all, which lead to a lot of problems when it came time to edit. So don't take what I say about world-building as gospel! In fact, if you have any tips or suggestions, I would love to hear them! I need all the help I can get!

For me, 'world-building' encompasses many aspects of a fantasy world. Not only does it mean the landscape, but it also means the currency, the politics, the weather, the clothes, the races, the technology, and the magic (if there is any). Since I want to ease into this, let's start with the most obvious meaning of world-building: landscape.

Landscapes are one of the most fascinating additions in a fantasy story. They can vary so much and have so much potential. Landscapes can have as little or as large an affect on the story as the writer wants. The landscapes can be real (for example, the Misty Mountains from 'Lord of the Rings' could exist in the real world) or fantastical (The Dead Marshes couldn't exist in the real world).

For me, I have found that it is helpful to draw a map of the entire fantasy world, even if my characters will never visit all of the different places. Story D takes place entirely in a little town, but I have a map of the many countries that exist in the world. It might come in handy, it might not. Maybe a character will mention his or her country and the direction it is in. Maybe I will never use it. Still, since world-building is not my talent, it's better to be safe than sorry. I highly suggest drawing a map of the entire world while you are outlining your story.

Okay, so now you've drawn a map. What I usually do is try to add various landscapes to different countries. Not only will it make the story more interesting if your characters have to travel, but it can also add different dimensions to your characters.

One of the funniest and oddest aspects of humans to me is how defensive we get over "our" weather or land. It's typically about the place where you were raised, but not necessarily. My mom is a Florida native, and while she dislikes cold weather, she is fascinated with autumn. She went to Georgia Tech for college and during the autumn of her first year, she saw her very first leaf colored a bright red. She kept it and dried it. Later, she went to a football game in North Carolina, during the autumn, and saw the Carolina blue sky. She loved it and years later, my dad's job got transferred to Raleigh and even after my dad was laid off, they stayed. My mom is willing to joke about Florida (in a good-natured way), but you mess with North Carolina? Nope.

Anyway, my point is that characters get defensive about certain types of land and weather. This can add dimensions to their personalities. It can also affect their physical attributes. For example, I am absolutely pathetic when it comes to winter and snow. I basically curl up in a blanket and try to hibernate like a grizzly bear, growling at anyone who approaches me unless they have hot chocolate. But put me in summer and I'm a happy snowman! I just spent nearly two hours tanning by the pool this afternoon and I've never felt more happy and energized. Science has shown that people adapt to their surroundings. People who are raised in warmer climates handle warmth better, and people who are raised in colder climates handle cold better. Pretty cool, right?

Ember from 'Ember Flame', though she would never admit it, feels more confident and safe in forests and woods. She outwardly complains about woods and forests because of all the emotional pain Grel caused her, but deep down inside she knows that the woods are her home. Hail retreats to Heesen, a frozen island in the middle of the ocean, to hide from the Pull. He could have gone anywhere to hide, but he feels safer in an area unpleasant to most of the inhabitants. Besides, the cold never bothered him anyway. Their home preferences can tell you a lot about their personalities.

Speaking of Heesen, fantasy landscapes don't always have to be realistic. That's why it's a fantasy. Sure, you don't need to make everything unrealistic, but sometimes, a little touch of impossibility can add a lot to a novel. Heesen shouldn't exist. It's literally an oversized iceberg. Why the heck would anyone turn that into a country? What economical value could that place possibly have? Isn't it dangerous? Wouldn't the water cycles flood it once every decade or so? I know the lore and answers to these questions, but I probably will never share them in the novels because it would take away from the story. However, little touches of history and mystic can give a sense of, ironically, rationality to an irrational place. In the real world, you don't step foot in a different country and instantly either someone explains to you the entire history of the country, or the flood of information comes to your mind. I've seen both happen in fantasy novels.

Well, those are my thoughts on landscapes in fantasy world-building. If you have any tips, I'd love to hear 'em! Like I said, world-building is not my favorite. If you want to read some novels that have extremely well-written worlds, I'd check out Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' trilogy (not a Christian novel, suggested for 16+ because of violence and themes), Jill Williamson's 'Blood of Kings' trilogy (Christian, suggested for 13+ because of themes), Jenelle Schmidt's 'King's Warrior (Christian, suggested for everyone), Gail Carson Levine's 'Ella Enchanted' (suggested for everyone), and, naturally, J.R.R. Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' (suggested for everyone).

Have a great day!

(Quote is from J.R.R. Tolkien's 'The Hobbit')


  1. I had such fun when I realised the creative possibilities in story worlds. In one tale I had trees with twisting vine-like branches, and white bark trees growing on plateaus of red rock.

    In another story I have on hold I made/am making about 9 countries. Lots of work but I had a grand time.

  2. Ohhh, trees with vine-branches! That is awesome! Bet those would be fun to climb!

    World-building really can be fun! For me, I have to break it down to manageable pieces so it doesn't overwhelm me. 9 countries sounds like a lot of planning, but it will definitely make your story deeper! :)