Fantasy—the one genre I swore I would never, no how, no way write. Guess what I’m writing? In order to write fantasy, I have to do something incredibly more difficult than piecing words together to make a book; it’s called world-building.
This is the third writing fear I’m sharing with you guys. I’ve already examined my fear of writing an entire book and of maintaining creativity amidst the chaos of life. Be sure to check out the beginning of this little series.
What is World-building anyway?
World-building is sheer madness wrapped up in an ocean of awesome.
How’s that for a nonsensical but accurate answer?
When a book’s subject includes fantasy creatures or beings, magic and magical locations or anything other-worldly, the writer must build all or some of the following:
- The world
- The government and laws of this world, both political and scientific
- The peoples, races and/or beings
- The flora—trees, flowers, food … and a shrubbery!
- The fauna—mythical creatures, new made-up creatures … bunnies with giant teeth!
- The history and/or mythology of this world (whether or not that bit even makes it into the books themselves)
- The Languages … Quenya and Sindarin, anyone?
- The Magic and its rules and boundaries and source
Now that we know what world-building is …
How the heck do you do all that?
Another great question!
Anyone have an answer?
(How many book and movie references can I possibly fit into this little post?)
Well, I’m still in what I consider the very early stages of world-building. So, I cannot answer this question with any high authority. What I can do is share with you some behind-the-scenes of what I’m doing for my own little Faerie story.
Learning from the Master
Everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not! Our worldview is the lens through which we see the world around us. These lenses are manufactured by our backgrounds, our beliefs, our code of ethics and the authorities under whom we study.
Like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I am a Christian. For this reason, my belief in one true God with one way to Him and eternal life with Him, coupled with an understanding of original sin means that my understanding of a central theme in much literature—good vs. evil—will be different from someone who believes all people are basically good or that there is no God or that there is no such thing as eternal life or absolute truth.
I will approach the building of a mythology and a creation story differently as well. My world may have a variety of belief systems, but there will be one true monotheistic religion that will shine forth. Any creation story I craft will take inspiration from the creation story.
With any tale I pen, I will first be inspired by the Creator of creativity.
The same God who gifted me with the ability to spin a yarn created galaxies and mysteries and whales and hummingbirds and bees and plankton. He also created narrative and poetry, songs and music, art and color and beauty.
So, the worldview God gave me will mold whatever worlds I may create in my stories.
Learning from the master
The master of the fantasy genre is J.R.R. Tolkien. If anyone says otherwise, I propose they’re wrong! I have learned much from his writing about what building a world requires from a writer. I’ve also learned from his books what to expect and look for as a reader of fantasy.
As I mentioned in last week’s post on my fear of losing my creativity amidst the chaos of life, each morning I copy a paragraph from Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Silmarillion. I do this to inspire myself, to set up a creative mindset at the beginning of my day and to immerse myself in great writing.
I don’t expect to ever match Tolkien or any of the other greatest writers in talent, but I can learn from their strengths and their styles and continue on my lifelong education in writing stories worthy of the best readers.
Recording inspiration as it comes
My faeries began whispering in my ears last summer. At that time I was working on Ashlee’s book, but I couldn’t help myself and jotted down a few scenes that I then tucked away until December.
My lovely writer friend, Mea Smith, and I met up for a writing getaway between Christmas and New Year’s, and I began work in depth on the Faerie story. It was the most fun! I quickly realized I had my work cut out for me; and that’s when I understood the massive challenge of world-building.
I also decided around the same time that the Indie Author life chose me, so I thought it would be best to switch gears to writing books that I would be able to write and complete a bit more quickly. My new plan had me focus on my literary fiction book, Beast, while I continued to devote a few writing sessions a month to world-building.
As you can tell, I’m learning as I go; but I am pleased with the results of the decisions I have made so far. I find that inspiration for my world and characters or answers to some of my big plot questions have come when I least expect it—as I’m reading other books or as I’m writing other things.
Whenever ideas come to me, I jot them down. That’s where my phone or a notepad always comes in handy. I record them as they come to me or write a scene or scenes here and there when I have time.
Releasing my inner realms
And, finally, one of the biggest fears I’ve always had is if I’m actually imaginative and creative enough to be a writer of any kind, especially of fantasy.
I took a brief interlude from writing Beast to write a fantasy short story over the past several weeks. This began when I saw a post about this fantastic competition. The top 20 submitted stories will be published together in an adventure, Sci-Fi and fantasy anthology, edited by Rachael Ritchey. I had already planned to write some fantasy short fiction this year as I continue world-building. This just bumped up my timeline!
So, I began brainstorming some ideas. I used Rachel’s lovely cover art to inspire me and plant a seed of a vision for the setting of a pivotal part of my main character’s story.
I still feared I wouldn’t be able to summon the imagination needed to make this happen.
Then, I started writing.
Friends, my fingers began to tap on the keyboard, and my mind entered a whole other realm. I saw creatures and beings. I envisioned the settings and the battles. I stood face to face with my main character and felt the feelings she did.
And then, I discovered a language within me as well! I’ve always wanted to make my own languages like Tolkien did, but I really didn’t think I had the ability. Now, please don’t misunderstand, I don’t believe what I’ve crafted is anywhere near the same field as his work. However, I closed my eyes, listened to some deep and dark corner of my mind and typed out words to a language that was hidden there. It’s highly influenced by both Latin and Spanish (the two languages I’ve studied); so it’s not entirely original.
Whether or not I continue to develop it and ultimately use it in my final book manuscripts, I don’t know yet. But, what I do know is, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Now I have the confidence that I am imaginative and creative enough to write about Faeries and Daemons and build the realms in which they live and draft the rules of their magic.
Now that I have mostly overcome my fear of world-building, I look forward to all the work and writing ahead. More than that, I cannot wait to share my world and characters with readers! Stay tuned for info on the short story. The top entries to the contest will be announced on April 9. (In case you’re wondering, I’ll be sitting in front of my computer that day, hitting the refresh button every few seconds!)
Readers, do you like fantasy? If so, what’s your favorite thing about it—creatures, magic, settings, languages, escape? Writers of fantasy, let me hear your best tips and tricks for world-building!