One of the greatest challenges in writing paranormal and fantasy fiction is crafting a setting that feels real, even if all of the rules we normally abide by are turned inside out. Writers trust their readers to willingly suspend their disbelief and accept the truths that the prose give them, but this trust isn’t freely given—writers must earn it. Think of your favorite world building writers and try to recall what they did to build an environment that was so completely different from our own, yet so easily imaginable.
Some of my favorite writers capitalize on familiar objects, identities, and themes, which they use as the foundation for their fantastical world(s). For example, JK Rowling takes human experiences and puts a metaphorical twist on them: Dementors and Boggarts represent fear; Physical markings like scars and Dark Marks represent power; and even the names of the characters are scrambled from words and sayings we all recognize–like Voldemort, which means “Flee from death,” or “Remus Lupin,” which is a combination of Wolf and Moon. By creating metaphors out of the ordinary and familiar, JK Rowling gently leads the reader into her magical world, slowly introducing magical elements, until eventually all that is left is fantasy. One of the greatest lessons we can learn from her craft is that every world, no matter how extraordinary, fantastical, or magical, is conceivable via the human imagination.
The imagination is where world building began for me. The concept for my debut YA Fantasy book FATES originated from daydreaming about an escape from choices and imagining a world where everyone’s fate is decided for them before birth—before time, really. I wondered about the type of character who might resist this world, and from those musings sprung Corinthe, my novel’s protagonist. By imagining this world of pre-determination and then putting an obstacle right in the center of that rule, I stumbled on two necessities for creating a complex world:
a) Establishing the rules for the environment (for example, one of the rules in my case was that Fate predetermined everything), and
b) Setting up opposition to those rules (in this instance, Choice and Free-will.) The conflict between the rules of the world and the will of your character is where the fun truly begins!
Once you have established the finite formula of the world you’re creating, you can layer it with all sorts of complexities. For example: in FATES, I created a paradise called Pyralis Terra. Everyone lives peacefully there, cloaked in beauty, connected to nature (I may have been inspired by Avatar!) but paradise isn’t interesting. They live regimented lives, with no unique personalities, curiosities, or connections to other people. I had a great deal of mythological references to rely on, since FATES has roots in Greek mythology, but I also wanted to be imaginative: thus, enter the Free Radicals, the forces which combat the elements of fate and order in the book. Free Radicals represent chaos and entropy, but in the form of Rhys and Miranda, they also represent a kind of love the people in Pyralis can never have: passionate and full of fire. If Pyralis is utopia, that isn’t interesting; having something BETTER than utopia but could then ultimately destroy you…well now, that’s a complex world I’d be interested in visiting!
Of course, these rules and complexities are nothing without gorgeous, rich descriptions of these worlds—envisioning the worlds was absolutely the most challenging part for me. In fantasy, the surroundings almost become a character in of themselves. In FATES, there are so many different worlds that Corinthe and Luc travel to, so making sure each one was unique and vivid was a challenge. I Google-imaged searched a LOT to get the right feel for these settings. But as I was writing FATES, I found that it wasn’t enough to just describe the height of the trees in the Blood Nymph Forrest. I strongly felt like my readers also needed to know the texture of the bark, the smell of the unnatural plants, and the sounds of creatures around them. I found myself relying on the five senses—touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste—to make sure that I was doing the settings justice. Only after I had established my world rules, created complexities, and remembered my five senses, did I feel confident in my manuscript. Luckily, my editors thought so too!
About Lanie Bross
FATES is the first novel from Lanie Bross, which went on sale from Delacorte (an imprint of Random House Kids) last month. Visit the FATES website, and connect with the author via her author website, Twitter, and Tumblr.
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