Fantasy Friday: Worldbuilding In Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl


DRAGONWITCH coverWorldbuilding, some say, is vital to epic fantasy. I’d argue that worldbuilding is vital to all fiction but is perhaps most noticeable in speculative fiction. Epic fantasy and space opera might have the greatest requirements put on them to develop a world that is at the same time vividly realistic and other.

And then there are faery tales.

Some faery tales may read a lot like epic fantasy. I think of Cinderella, for example, and the main thing that sets it apart from traditional good versus evil stories such as The Chronicles of Prydain, is, well, faeries. The magic of the story comes about at the initiative of a faery godmother (or, in Disney’s version, three fairy godmothers). In fact a good many of the most famous faery tales involve kings and castles, faeries and witches, princes and fair maidens in distress.

That was then. A host of writers today have taken the threads of those old stories and are turning them into a different type of faery tale–one that utilizes the craft of contemporary fiction.

When it comes to worldbuilding, perhaps no one creates a more realistic and at the same time, fantastic place as Anne Elisabeth Stengl does in her Tales of Goldstone Wood series. With each book I think this talented author grows, and so does her world.

As I thought about explaining the worldbuilding of Gladstone Wood, the closest I could come to was the Wonderland into which Alice stumbled. There is a similar disorientation in entering the world Anne Elisabeth Stengl has created.

Things don’t work the same way they do in the world of mortals, because this is the Wood Between, where the River plots against any mortals that stray, where stars come in human form, where paths change direction, and trees aren’t where they once were. Where time is swallowed up and where faeries guard gates, lest those who don’t belong end up slipping into the land of mortals.

In my post about the worldbuilding in A Cast of Stones by Patrick Carr, I said, besides a description of location,

[worldbuilding] consists of culture and language, politics and religion, alliances and enemies, races and rules, hierarchy and economics, beliefs and superstitions, history and literature.

So how does Dragonwitch measure up? The landscape is vivid, in spite of the fact that there is no map. In part, I’m convinced that a map wouldn’t help because the paths in the Wood Between simply aren’t reliably stationary. Things move. Trees reshape and the path itself is apt to go off on its own.

But outside the wood, in the Near World and the Far World, the terrain is just as explicit, though much more familiar. There are castles and stables, crypts and courtyards, mountains and deserts, villages and temple buildings.

In addition, each of these places has its own history, prophecy, economy, government, literature, language, and hierarchy. The fabric of each place is rich, made more so when people from the different parts of this faery world come together.

A sample of the story can say far more than I can describe. Below is an excerpt from a place near the middle of the story (pp 188-189). A faery named Eanrin has just helped rescue three mortals (the Chronicler, Alister, and Mouse–a young woman) from a host of goblins and has led them into the Wood Between.

“What in the name of Lord Lumé–” the Chronicler began.

“Hush!” The cat appeared at his feet and stood up into the tall form of Bard Eanrin. The Chronicler’s stomach turned at the sight, and his knees buckled so that he sat down hard on the marble floor beneath him. The legend stepped around the Chronicler to draw back a green-velvet curtain emblazoned with small white blossoms, and peered out.

Except–and the Chronicler knew he must be mad when he saw this–there was no curtain. There was only the branch of a hawthorn tree heavily laden with clusters of blooms. But when the cat-man dropped it and stepped back, it was again rich fabric falling in folds.

“We’ve lost them,” Eanrin said, crossing his arms as he addressed the three mortals. “They’ll not find us here.”

Alistair still lay on the floor, though he’d rolled onto his back and stared, openmouthed, at the vaulted ceiling above him. Mouse stood nearby, trying to disguise her own surprise at the sudden change in their surroundings. She looked more bedraggled and waif-like than ever in this setting . . .

How frail and foolish these mortals looked here in First Hall! By the standards of Faerie, the Haven’s proportions were humble and reserved. But this was an immortal’s abode, built by immortal hands at the direction of the Lumil Eliasul, who was neither mortal nor immortal but who stood in a place beyond either. Here, the little humans looked so imperfect in their Time-bound clay bodies.

Yes, Dragonwitch definitely has a feeling of place, especially of an Other place, though the scenes that are set in Gaheris and its castle resonate with historical reality. And the Near World evokes images of an amalgamation of ancient Egypt and early America before anyone thought to name it.

What a place. What a story. But I’ll give a full review of Dragonwitch another day.

Worldbuilding In A Cast Of Stones by Patrick Carr


Warwick_Castle_-mist_23o2007Every author creates a world for his characters to inhabit, but those working in speculative fiction have to invent one. Contemporary and historical writers have to research theirs. Speculative writers have to research but also design, combine, entwine features from this life and from their mind and imagination into a cohesive whole.

The world a writer builds is made up of more than landscape. It consists of culture and language, politics and religion, alliances and enemies, races and rules, hierarchy and economics, beliefs and superstitions, history and literature.

I say this because a number of reviews, particularly Mike Duran‘s and Katherine Coble‘s, of Patrick Carr‘s novel A Cast of Stones pinpointed worldbuilding as a weakness. In my comments to their posts I concurred, but I have to admit, I began to wonder how accurate the statement was.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, I deeply felt the lack of a map! I realized as I read without the ability to reference a map, that I wasn’t picturing where places were in reference to one another. I didn’t know where the mountains were or where the gorge ran. I didn’t know how close the sea was, and was surprised to learn that the capital city was on an island (? – I think I have that right). In other words, I didn’t see the world well.

On the other hand, I felt the culture was well established. A messenger system existed. Each town had a tavern/inn that served as a gathering place and to which newcomers went. But they also had a church, and the priest had some authority. For example, the village priest had the power to have someone flogged and thrown into the stocks for drunkenness.

Herbwomen were looked at with suspicion, as if they believed in something unholy. Something unholy did venture in the land–a malus, which would best be compared to an evil spirit. And so did ferrals (a kind of sentient super wolf), though these were an aberration of the norm.

The church had a key part to play in the kingdom but was augmented by the conclave of readers (perhaps the most unique element of the governmental structure) and by the king and the Watch–soldiers dedicated to his protection. Readers were conscripted by the church, whereas serving in the Watch was something reserved for only the most skilled fighters. Both positions required training, so formal education was also a part of this world, at least for some of the people.

The economy depended on trade caravans, and bartering was the standard manner of doing business. People from various parts of the world, with varying physical features and accents based on their place of origin, gravitated to caravan guard jobs.

Other people lived in towns and villages or on farms, each under the oversight of an earl who owed his allegiance to the king. A line existed between commoners and the hierarchy. Even the church and the conclave of readers had their ranking.

All this to say, I actually know quite a bit about the world that author Patrick Carr created. In some ways it does resemble the medieval world of Europe–which required research–but there is also an inventiveness that had to come from his imagination.

Does Carr create a strong sense of place? Well, there’s no mistaking this world for Kansas, or Oz. Could it have been stronger? Undoubtedly. The weakest element, in my opinion, was in the visuals–the description of where the characters were.

Tomorrow I hope to comment on a different Christian speculative novel, one that does, in my opinion, a wonderful job of worldbuilding.

How important is worldbuilding to you when you read fiction? What makes a place feel real to you?

How Important Are The Details?


pick, pickIn more than one article critiquing the Mark Burnett/Roma Downey TV mini-series The Bible, reviewers pointed out “picky” details–Adam portrayed as a European-ish white guy, not an African or a Middle Easterner. And beardless. More than once I read remarks about the angels outfitted much like Ninja warriors.

Are details like this important?

My first thought is, Come on, people, quite being so picky.

But hold on.

Aren’t the picky things noticeable when they pull us out of the story? Just recently I read a post by agent Steve Laube about inconsistencies in novels that editors don’t catch but readers do. It reminded me of a book I recently read in which basketball details were wrong.

For example, Team A faced off against Team B in the NBA finals, with Team B hosting game 1. Some pages later the series is 3-2 and game 6 is being played at Team A’s home court.

But hold on. Fans of pro basketball know the finals are a 2-3-2 format–games 1,2,6 (if necessary), and 7 (if necessary) are played at the home of the team with the best over all regular season record. Games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary) are played at the home of the two seed. So no way could game 6 be played on Team B’s home court if game 1 was at Team A’s.

There was a similar stumble earlier connected with basketball (in the NBA, only one free throw when a technical foul is called) and another one with the weather in Southern California (a week of rain in May? Right! Doesn’t happen!) And another one on a cross-country drive. Three days, the character determines. It will take three days to reach her destination. She starts out on a Sunday and arrives … on a Sunday. O-o-kay.

But here’s the thing. If I were writing a review of this book, I would feel like I was being overly critical to point out these slips. I mean, did any of those matter in the long run? No. Will people who are not basketball fans, or residents of SoCal, even notice? Probably not. Does the day of the week really matter? Not really. Then what’s the big deal?

Do the details in fiction matter?

Actually, yes, they do. The details give the story a sense of credibility. I’ve said before, one of the things I think J. K. Rowling did so well was construct an incredible fantasy world. Others say she merely played off British boarding schools and that may be true. But through the details Ms. Rowling included, the world of magic came alive.

Horseless carriages that convey themselves, a sorting hat, a whomping tree, portkeys, food that appears in dishes on the dining tables, a ceiling that reflects the weather outside, broken wands mis-repaired that send spells incorrectly–on and on, each detail woven into the story with a high degree of consistency. There weren’t three school houses in one book and four in another. The new students weren’t placed in theirs by the Sorting Hat in one and by the Sword of Gryffindor in another.

Of course, the longer the book, the greater number of details there are to keep straight. An epic story like the seven Harry Potter books requires a great deal of work to keep all the details straight.

But I’ll come back to the point–why does it matter? I said credibility or realism, if you will, and that’s perhaps the greatest point, but in tangent is the fact that inconsistencies may pull readers out of the “fictive dream.” Rather than living side by side with the characters, the reader stops: Wait a minute, didn’t she say the trip took three days, and didn’t she leave on a Sunday? Then how can they be arriving on a Sunday? Did I miss something?

Lack of clarity can do essentially the same thing. The details might be right, but if they aren’t expressed clearly, the reader is still stopping, still looking back and checking to see why what she thought had been conveyed actually was something different.

So yes, details matter. At least they should.

Do editors give a pass to certain authors because they know readers will buy, read, love, and praise their books no matter what? To rectify this, should reviewers actually start pointing out inconsistencies . . . or will the point be lost because others will cry, Stop being so picky!

What do you think? Do you notice inconsistencies? Do you think those things should be pointed out in reviews?

Gettin’ To Be THAT Time Of Year


I can feel it coming on. I’ve noticed it more the last few years, but no doubt it’s been part of my makeup for some time. Call it the Fantasy Itch.

Yep, for some reason as the “holiday season”–usually defined here in the US as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day–approaches, I begin to have an urge to snuggle in with one of the great fantasies. In recent years I’ve used the occasion to reread the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, much of the Narnia series, and a couple of Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain books. I even reread the one Harry Potter book I own–which made me realize, I definitely want to visit the library and get a couple more to satisfy this year’s fantasy itch.

The odd thing is, I read fantasy all the time–part of the job now, so to speak. I recently finished Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes, a general market young adult story, and the beginning of a series touted as “ideal for fans of George R. R. Martin and Kristin Cashore.” Then there was Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, another general market YA. Before that was Shannon Hale’s sequel to Princess Academy, Palace of Stone.

Of course I also read all the books the CSFF Blog Tour features and some I judge for contests and others friends send me. With all this speculative fiction coming out of my ears, why would I want to settle down with a fantasy as a special holiday season activity?

I don’t really have an answer. I think I’ve mentioned this propensity before, either here or at Spec Faith, and kindly commenters have tried to help me make sense of it. It’s still a mystery to me.

Somehow, with shorter days and cooler weather (I realize we here in SoCal aren’t allowed by our Eastern friends to say “cold weather” 😆 ), reading becomes a greater pleasure. But more than that, getting lost in a different world, one so rich it feels real, is pure delight.

Which probably explains why I gravitate to certain books–those classics that have a level of worldbuilding that is a grade above most other fantasies.

Some of these more recent fantasies–not the urban kind or the dystopians–seem to me to be a weak imitation of the medieval world, with different countries, and of course some magic or supernatural power. In other words, I don’t feel transported to somewhere else.

Tolkien’s stories, though supposedly happening on “middle earth,” feel Other. Not unfamiliar or strange, mind you. There are familiar things like inns and ponies and roads and a comfortable fire and birthday parties. But peopling this familiar place are hobbits and trolls and dwarfs and orcs and wizards and dragons and elves. What’s more, there are frightening forests and abandoned dwarf mines that once held an entire city and mountains that turn malevolent and secret stairways and deadly marshes. In other words, along with the familiar are places that enchant and intrigue and even frighten.

Harry Potter is similar. Nothing could be more familiar to most of us than a school, though fewer of us have experienced a boarding school, unless you lived in a dorm during college. But mixed in with what seems so normal–homework and tests and boring lectures and athletic contests–is the special world of wizardry with its hierarchy and governance, games and tradition. And history. A dark history in which a wizard utilizing the dark arts ruled.

Ah, yes, I’m definitely ready to settle down with a good fantasy. It’s that time of year!

CSFF Blog Tour – The Ale Boy’s Feast by Jeffrey Overstreet, Part 1 The Dark World


Jeffrey Overstreet - photo by Matt Sumi

“A darkly complex world populated by a rich and diverse cast of characters, in which glimpses of haunting beauty shine through.” So said R. J. Anderson, author of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter and Wayfarer in her endorsement of Jeffrey Overstreet‘s The Ale Boy’s Feast.

As I read this final edition of the Auralia Thread series, I am struck by how apropos that simple description is. Today I want to think a little bit about what created the darkness of this world.

Going back to the beginning of the series, I see darkness in the political structure. Rulers are autocratic, and punishments are merciless. Consequently there is a great divide between the privileged and the “criminal element,” poor people who are left to fend for themselves without the protection of government services.

In conjunction with this divide is rampant prejudice, within particular houses, or feudal realms, based on economic and social standing, and between the various houses of the land known as The Expanse.

In addition, there is darkness in this world’s history. One of the houses has fallen to ruin because its people have succumbed to a madness that turns them into dreaded beastmen. The effect on the remaining houses is decidedly negative. They shore up their defenses against raids and have less and less to do with outsiders.

A third element that creates the dark tone of these books is the various dangers that encroach. There are dangers from outside the “civilized” communities, but there are also traitorous dangers from within. Each seems to grow as the series progresses.

Another source of darkness is the false religion, and the seers who teach it, that holds sway over one of the houses. Those following the seers are powerful but unprincipled. They pose a threat to every good character in the story.

Along with this aspect is the unknown of the “childish superstitions” that most adults deny — the existence of the Keeper and the reality of the Northchildren. Belief and disbelief create division and suspicion. At times, the most rational of people can’t tell if they are dreaming or experiencing something from a realm beyond.

Finally, the bleak landscape creates darkness. Even if Deathweed weren’t devouring all living things and turning The Expanse into a wilderness, places like The Eastern Heatlands and the Forbidding Wall still produce an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

Quite a dark world, indeed. But then there are those “glimpses of haunting beauty.”

I’ll take a look at that aspect next time.

For your enjoyment, spend some time with others discussing this fourth of four, the White Strand in the Auralia Thread.

Check marks are direct links to tour-related articles.

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NOTE: Tour participants, the Amazon link you received for our featured book is broken. You may use this one, or another of your choosing.

What Makes Fantasy Work, Continued


When I first posed the question, What makes fantasy work, my immediate thought was, an engaging character. That’s when I realized that there might not be so much difference between fantasy and other fiction.

In some of the fantasy I mentioned yesterday that I don’t think is working, I found two problems with the central character—either she/he was nondescript or whiny.

To make a character seem real, he must have a rounded personality. For fallen humanity, that means weaknesses and needs as well as strengths and things to offer others. At times, however, a character weakness can be painted with too much emphasis. I know because I created such a character.

It crushed me at first when members of my critique group told me they hated my main character. Hated him? I loved him. How could they misunderstand him so completely? Yes, he had problems, but don’t all characters? I mean, isn’t that part of the character arc?

That, in a nutshell, is the balancing act authors must achieve—give the character problems but not let him become embittered, sullen, whiny, complaining, slothful.

In some ways, Jonathan Rogers’ Grady in The Charlatan’s Boy is the perfect character. He’s got a problem—he’s an orphan, but that’s not all of it. The only person who knows anything about where he came from is unreliable—worse than unreliable. He twists the truth at will, however it suits him.

But instead of wallowing in self-pity, Grady makes the most of his circumstances. Here’s where the reader sees his real strengths. He’s loyal, hard working, and humble enough to play whatever part is given him.

So the first thing fantasy has to have in order to work is a main character that is believable and engaging.

The second thing, because this is fantasy I’m talking about, is a well-developed, consistent world. This is the aspect J. K. Rowling mastered. If I were to grade her, I might give her a C or C+ for her character. Harry wasn’t particularly believable in the first book because the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Dursleys was over the top. Nor was he particularly engaging. He didn’t whine but neither did he do anything to change his situation.

But the world Rowling created was unbelievable. Well, believably so. I mean, she did such a great job creating a magic place that the story came alive. She paid attention to detail and didn’t overlook anything.

In Hogwarts, food appeared magically on plates, the ceiling in the dining hall changed to appear like the outdoor sky, persons in portraits moved (and moved from their own frame to another’s), persons in newspaper photos moved too, and so did the figures on the cards that came with certain candy. And those chocolate frogs could actually jump away. The students had to be taught how to fly a boom and how to use their wands. And on and on and on. So many little details, everyday things twisted to fit a place where magic was real.

But there’s still more to this “What makes fantasy work” question, so I see I’m going to need another post on the topic. We’ll just say this continuation is to be continued. 😉

Refreshing Fiction Continued


As most writers know, there are no “new” plots. That doesn’t mean there are no new stories, however. An oft-done plot can still be made into a fresh and entertaining story.

Take romance for example. Everyone knows that the traditional plot form of a romance is boy meets girl and they fall in love, but Things happen to keep them apart. In the end, however, they conquer or their love conquers and they get together.

No real surprise in a romance. Then how does a writer make a romance seem fresh? The easy way is to create seemingly insurmountable barriers—cultural or religious mores that keep the couple apart, personality quirks, misunderstandings, irreconcilable differences (until they are reconciled – 😉 ).

Perhaps one character is a faery and the other a human, in a wheelchair. Those are obstacles! Who would even see the romance coming? Which is precisely why R. J. Anderson surprised and delighted readers with Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter.

But what if the couple is already married—a union of convenience or position—and they barely tolerate each other? What if, in fact, the wife holds her husband in contempt because she admires a mysterious someone else who does gallant, selfless deeds to help others?

That set-up describes The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy, one of my favorite novels. I suspect one reason I love it so much is because of the surprise I experienced the first time I read it.

But now those two have been done, so how can a romance writer find a new something? Sometimes the newness isn’t in the plot but in the characters. An interesting character, quirky, engaged to someone else, perhaps single longer than most, with a family who values family and marriage above all else.

Add in humor (which comes from the quirky characters) and you have the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a surprising smash hit.

Or how about a widower not looking to remarry, with a little boy who longs for a mother, so much so that he makes a call to an all-night talk show and pours out his heart. Interested women start to write. MANY interested women. Now we have distance, reticence, an engagement, the many others, all standing in the way of true love. And that’s Sleepless in Seattle.

Another tack is to merge elements of “already been done” stories. Take Beauty and the Beast, for example, and merge that with Sleeping Beauty and you have Shrek. Of course, the brilliant writers who created all three Shrek movies did much more than staple two threads together, but the point for this discussion is that they worked from familiar storylines. By starting with two that seemed unlikely to fit together, they made a movie (three actually) that seemed familiar yet wholly new.

Fresh stories can also come from different settings. What would a romance set in Louisiana as the state battled the worst oil spill in history look like?

What would a romance between a 9/11 widow and a firefighter ten years after the Twin Towers attack look like?

New places, odd places, uncomfortable places can be fuel for fresh fiction just as much as plot twists or off-beat characters. The important thing, I think, is to imagine beyond the list of “first responders”—the ideas that present themselves when we writers first start contemplating a story.

Published in: on June 3, 2010 at 11:02 am  Comments Off on Refreshing Fiction Continued  
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Fresh Fiction Writing Refreshed


Yesterday, the heart of my post about writing fresh fiction was this: A fresh story is a familiar one told in a new way. Or a different story told in a familiar way.

While I think those statements are true, I don’t think they are particularly helpful to a writer who is trying to figure out out to tell a familiar story so that it comes across as something new and interesting.

I think of King Arthur stories, since there are so many of them. It seems next to impossible to tell the tale in a new way, and yet Bryan Davis did in his Dragons in Our Midst series of YA fantasies (AMG Publishing).

Part of his stories, but not all, were flashback scenes of King Arthur and good prophet Merlin saving the dragons from dragon hunters by turning them into people. Reviewers often said their favorite parts of the books were these Arthurian legend scenes.

Obviously Bryan told the familiar in a new way. But how? For one, he linked Arthur with dragons, something I don’t think is part of the traditional legend. He also made dragons in need of saving and gave Arthur a pivotal role in doing so. In other words, Bryan’s fresh take enhanced the existent story and built upon the character’s strengths.

Stephen Lawhead also re-imaged a familiar story in his King Raven series (Thomas Nelson)—Robin Hood. He changed the legendary setting from England to Wales, then in the final book of the trilogy gave a credible explanation how the English adopted the story based on a “real” Welsh hero.

A third example of a fresh take on a familiar legend is the movie Ever After, the story of Cinderella, told as if by an aging relative who passed the true story along to the Brothers Grimm. In this “real” version, Cinderella is anything but a helpless woman, though she is mistreated by her step-mother and one step-sister (the other turns out to be of some help later in the story, though she doesn’t stand up to those who are abusive).

The magic elements of the story are changed into real events/people, with only a perception of the fantastic. Another twist is that the prince, when he learns who Cinderella actually is, feels betrayed by her and is unwilling to marry beneath his station. Later he comes to his senses, rushes to save her from a brute who has bargained with her step-mother to marry her, but finds she has already freed herself from the man’s evil clutches.

These three examples do not hide their source but make a concerted effort to alter the story in some significant way: Davis by incorporating dragons in the Arthurian legend, Lawhead by changing the setting of Robin Hood, and Ever After by explaining away the magic of Cinderella and adjusting the plot accordingly.

Making full use of myth and legend while altering the source in some significant way is just one method of telling the old in a new way. But I’ll save any further discussion of fresh fiction for another day.

Fantasy Friday – World Building


I’ve been thinking about world building a bit more as I’ve worked on the pre-writing for my next book, the one after The Lore of Efrathah. I don’t know a lot about it yet, but I’m already getting the idea that it will have different world building components than the largely rural journey-quest epic I’m finishing.

Thinking about world building has also made me wonder what a non-fantasy writer has to do regarding world building. A fantasy world is something a writer builds from the ground up.

True, some fantasies take place in this world but have fantasy components. That kind of jigsaw-puzzle world building might be harder than the ground-up kind. I don’t know.

I suppose the contemporary world building has to do with selecting places and visiting them to get facts right. Historical world building might be hardest of all because it is ground up but must be true. Lots of research required!

I’ve done some research for my world building, but for the most part, because I’ve been privileged to travel a lot, I relied on what I knew about different places.

The hard part was that I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. So I hadn’t thought through what I should do to create some language elements. I had no intention of actually making up a new language—just writing a few words here and there.

But that soon morphed to include a few lines of poetry and song, greetings, blessings, and on and on. Of course, there needs to be some rhyme or reason to it all, so there needed to be a little basic grammar. But some of the words didn’t fit the rules. Oh, well, that’s more like real language, I decided. Lots of exceptions to the rules in English, so why not in the language of the Hidden Races?

Organizational structure was another thing I hadn’t anticipated. Who was in charge? What power does the advisory council have? What are the military rankings?

And how many people are we talking about? Is this a well-populated land or sparsely so?

How about commerce? What kinds of businesses exist in the cities? Are the people literate and if so, how important are books? Theater? Entertainment?

Questions, questions, questions—all needing answers if the world is to feel real.

Not that the author needs to inform the reader of all the answers. But if the world is to work consistently, the author needs to make it run by a cohesive set of rules. In so doing, the reader may never think about “world building.”

Except for maps. I love maps. I make maps for everything in my world because I need to see the logistics in order to make sure my characters are where I’ve said they are.

My inclination is to include every map I’ve ever made in my book. Won’t readers want to see these maps too? Well, maybe not. I’ve read some notes in which readers say they are turned off by maps (and glossaries).

The only maps I’m turned off by are the ones that aren’t complete. Something happens in the story and I turn to the map to see where this place is in relation to the others, and it isn’t there! Horrors! That’s a map that detracts from the book if ever one does as far as I’m concerned.

How about you? Do maps help world building do you think, or hurt it?

Published in: on May 14, 2010 at 5:41 pm  Comments (7)  
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CSFF Blog Tour – Raven’s Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet, Day 1


Because we missed touring in February, the CSFF Blog Tour is featuring a second book in April—Raven’s Ladder, the third book in Jeffrey Overstreet‘s Auralia Thread adult fantasy series.

As is my want to do during our tours, I’ll digress a bit to something the book made me think about. In the case of Raven’s Ladder, that something is fantasy itself, and in particular, fantasy settings.

While fantasy in general continues to sell well, and Christian publishers are slowly adding more titles and authors, there lingers a perception that fantasy is for a select few who like unpronounceable names and unrealistic stories.

Certainly I don’t agree with that perspective, but it does bring up the question: can a fantasy setting be too “dense” to allow access by readers less inclined toward the genre? And if so, when does an author cross that line?

After all, isn’t one of the joys of fantasy the chance to imagine new and different places? But of course all fiction opens the reader to new and different places. I’ve been to Russia, China, Israel, and Germany, all through novels. I’ve lived in the eighteen century, the early twentieth, and even the twenty-fifth.

So imagining new and different places isn’t reserved for fantasy. Why then does fantasy cause so many to associate the genre with “strange,” rather than imaginatively new and different?

I don’t have any hard evidence one way or the other, but here’s what I suspect: fantasy that doesn’t connect the reader to the real world gets labeled “strange.” By “connect to the real world” I don’t mean that all fantasy needs to be about a character from this world. Nor do I believe it must be set in this world.

Tolkien’s heroes were Hobbits, not humans, and Lewis’s Narnia was clearly a world apart from this one, yet those two authors are arguably the most popular fantasy writers of all time.

What, then, are the elements that help a reader connect to a fantasy world? I think there are several that help me.

Accessible names. These aren’t necessarily familiar names but they should have a familiar feel to them. Bilbo, Samwise, Aslan, Taran, Dobro Turtlebane, and Cal-raven from Raven’s Ladder are accessible, though different. The vowel-consonant combinations aren’t unfamiliar to English speakers.

An understandable society. Recently I saw an old Star Trek: Next Generations re-run in which Worf brought to the forefront how impossible it was for Romulans to understand Klingons because they do not place the same value on honor. The conflict made perfect sense to anyone who’s viewed the show for any length of time because that cultural distinction had been clearly established.

More importantly, the idea that a culture would value an ethical or moral attribute more than life itself doesn’t seem bizarre or stupid. Different, perhaps, but in an admirable way. Clearly the culture is one readers can relate to.

So too, in Raven’s Ladder when the king does away with old segregation lines and no longer follows the rules of old, readers can understand the conflict such a change could create.

Certainly there are more ways a writer can create a unique world that feels new and different yet retains the sense of familiarity that will draw readers in rather than repelling them. What are some ideas you’ve see in your reading or included in your writing?

Once again, I invite you to see what others touring Raven’s Ladder are saying about the book:

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of Raven’s Ladder from WaterBrook Press.

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