Building a Fantastical World from ScratchHi there everyone! I'm Archer Kay Leah, author of LGTBQA+ romance and an avid lover of getting lost in strange worlds. My heartfelt thanks to Diverse Reader for hosting me today!
Today's post is about one of my favourite things: world-building! My specialty is high fantasy romance, where the stories happen in a "secondary world" – one that's completely imaginary. There are extra challenges inherent in such stories, mostly because the author has to make them seem real. Every world has its own traits, rules, and functions. By the same token, each author has their own way of building those worlds. This is a greatly simplified version of my process, but if you're an aspiring fantasy author, always feel free to experiment, research, and find what works for you!
How It Starts…Usually my worlds start with a character, a concept, or part of the plot. Something inspires me to write about them, whether it's their identity, occupation, or circumstances. It could as simple as an image, emotion, or conversation I want to capture on-page. This isn't really a surprise since I love getting to the heart of the characters and tearing into their behaviour and psychology!
The Republic series began with a concept: someone who wouldn't back down from a fight, especially when that fight was to save the one they loved. Once I had the characters Gren and Tracel in mind, everything else flowed around them. The subsequent books have mostly been inspired by other characters.
Then Things Start Shaking…Once the character shows up, everything else just seems to fall into place – usually as I'm writing notes, reflecting, and writing. I liken it to my subconscious having a cabinet full of stories, where the entirety of each story is tucked inside a folder, and when I need one, my subconscious whips a folder at me, revealing piece after piece… then my conscious struggles to put all the pieces together in a pretty way without getting a paper cut. At the same time, it feels like characters are chatting my ear off from the inside.
As the process tumbles forward, I work out the answers to dozens (hundreds?) of questions, though I don't sit and consciously answer these questions like a checklist. It happens intrinsically, falling back on what I've learned about crafting a solid world, both from resource books and articles as well as the books I love. These questions can be categorized into a couple sets: location and character, the answers to which reveal what I need to explore and reveal in the story. Here are some of those questions:
- Where does the story take place? Village, town, or city? What's the name of their country, province/state, and town? Are other countries nearby?
- Has the character always lived there? If not, where are they from and why did they leave?
- What does the world look like, feel like? Are they landlocked, seaside, near forests or mountains, or somewhere else entirely? Is it rough? Is it colourful? What about flora, fauna, and weather? How closely does it resemble and/or differ from our world?
- What do the main character and love interest do? How do they influence their world? How do they feel about that world?
- Who do they associate with, why, and how? Who do they report to? Who are their friends, family, romantic/sexual interests, colleagues, and enemies – and what do all of them do?
- How do the characters get along in the world and their relationships? What are their limitations, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, wants, desires, hopes, and needs? Do those make the character unique or like everyone else in their society?
- What do the characters wear, eat, drink, like, and hate? What do they believe? What are they allowed and not allowed to do? Do they fit in or are they misfits?
(And yes, the second set of questions is character-building more than world-building. However, they can be used to craft a world by applying the answers to the broader context rather than focusing on one person. It becomes a matter of compare and contrast – a matter of relativity. The world and its people are intimately connected: people are shaped by the world as much as they shape it.)
And It All Just Grows…While I write, details get fine-tuned and built up. The world-building process actually becomes roughly 50% planned and 50% on the fly. There are loads of details that don't come out until I'm immersed in the scene. It's when I'm practically standing there with the characters that I get to know everything they do. I become a citizen by proxy, seeing their world for myself.
In the case of a series, the world keeps growing. Each new location, character, and situation reveals new things. With every book in The Republic (and other series I'm working on), the world builds further through the perspectives of different characters. Each person experiences the world differently, and they know different things, so I can show off the various traits of their world without having to repeat so many of the same details over and over. Different characters pick up different details, and they don't notice – or care about – the same things.
What's also really fun about working with multiple books is the ability to explore how things change over time. In The Republic, for instance, not only are there subtle changes in fashion, there will be changes in politics and weaponry due to what’s become their arms race.
I find this process helps keep potential info-dumps under control. Instead of revealing everything about the world, I opt for things the reader definitely needs to know about what's going on and why. With each detail, I ask the same three questions: (a) is it relevant to the story and series, (b) is it useful or is it clutter, and (c) is it that important? If the bit of world-building doesn't meet any of those criteria, I won't bother including it.
In truth, what makes it to page is just a fraction of what an author knows about that world. What an author needs to know is completely different than what a reader needs. We worry about all the huge, scary stuff in the background so you can just enjoy the story. :)
And here ends this post! Thank you so much for reading. I love hearing from readers, so feel free to share your thoughts, including any fictional worlds you've particularly loved!
Publisher: Less Than Three Press
Length: 97,000 words approx
The Republic Series
To make matters worse, he works as an informant for the High Council. He scrapes through both jobs waiting for his last breath. As the Shar-denn motto says: the only way out is dead.
No stranger to living complicated decisions, Adren is caught between worlds of cir own. As the child of a Shar-denn faction boss, cir life is a conflicted tangle of expectation and duty. When cir family is arrested, Adren manages to escape, but nowhere is safe. Desperate and on the run, Adren is determined to punish Ress for turning in cir family. No one who betrays the gang can live. Ress must pay the price, even if Adren has to go against everything ce is.
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Archer Kay Leah was raised in Canada, growing up in a port town at a time when it was starting to become more diverse, both visibly and vocally. Combined with the variety of interests found in Archer’s family and the never-ending need to be creative, this diversity inspired a love for toying with characters and their relationships, exploring new experiences and difficult situations.
Archer most enjoys writing speculative fiction and is engaged in a very particular love affair with fantasy, especially when it is dark and emotionally charged. When not reading and writing for work or play, Archer is a geek with too many hobbies and keeps busy with other creative endeavors, a music addiction, and whatever else comes along. Archer lives in London, Ontario with a bigender partner and rather chatty cat.
Author Page at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/author/archerkayleah
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