Thoughts of a World Builder Issue 1
How to Get Started Building Quality Fantasy Worlds
(There are very few if any spoilers in this article which will give away plot or take away enjoyment if you have not read Wailing Tempest: Corrupted Realms Book One. Feel free to dive in!)
World building is the most critical aspect when writing bestselling Fantasy novels, and is perhaps my most favorite part in the process. As an early reader of Tolkien and Frank Herbert, I felt instantly captivated by their worlds and found myself - like many others - eager to daringly pass through Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains. I also felt a deeper kinship with characters like those from Dune (c)1965, Frank Herbert), learning about Arrakis along with newcomer to the planet, Paul Atreides. Mostly, that is how modern writers such as Brandon Sanderson drew me in with his high set bar and unknowingly dared me to try my own hand at the craft.
I hope you understand I am not writing this article to attempt to place myself among those master worldbuilders mentioned above, rather to add my thoughts and motivations as it affects my own writing.
Creating History/Culture as Backstory
What many do not know about me, was that before I became Tom "T.B." Phillips, author, I was Thomas B. Phillips, historian. I dedicated most of my life to collecting primary sources and devouring the thoughts of others who commented on the actions of others and ultimately shaped our world. I believe developing a history is just as important in world building - if not more important - than drawing the geography. When readers first enter Fainnotherr (Fay-no-ther) and meet Alistaria, their mind right away finds the fae city so fiercely coveted and attacked by the Banshee Daemon (Day-mon). What they do not know is who the Banshee are, or why they wish harm to the Fainne (Fane). The truth is, I planned it that way from the beginning.
I allowed readers to learn about the fae history through Alistaria and Piotr as they journey separately through the story, reading Nastauria's journal and listening to oral tellings and legends as they grow. Just as Paul learned about the Fremen in Dune by tutors and technology invented by Herbert, so too did my characters. As a writer I believe this the most stylistic stroke some who fail at world building have ignored - unless the reader can see, hear, smell your scene and bond with the mind of your character, your world building effort is merely a map and you are only a narrator.
I love reading works where the characters' emotion, actions, and responses tell the tale, not the voice in their head reading and telling the story. I want readers to feel safe or afraid at appropriate times - to worry or relax along with their friends within the pages. Accomplishing that end, a writer must build the world as a catalyst that moves the plot, such as when Torian and Restarian face a raging river during the Tempest - had the storm not been a driving phenomenon and key element in the world I had already introduced, the reader would never have understood the desperation motivating their different responses to the incident. The story was essentially a hero versus world tale, more than it was hero versus antagonist for the first two parts.
Soon, with the release of Howling Shadow: Corrupted Realms Book Two, more aspects of their history will emerge at a much more rapid pace - one which open eyes and blow minds. I have many more surprises in store, especially for those who've discovered this story is a take on Celtic lore in a fictional island.
Magic is vital to fantasy, if it exists within a story. It does not have to exist at all, but, if it does, I believe the author owes readers a well developed magic easily or not so easily explained. Make it as complicated as you desire, but readers of fantasy are a tough audience to please with originality. They no longer accept the response, "because I said so, and I'm the author." Please study the picture below, then meet me in the next paragraph:
Thanks for staying with me. Did you focus on the Banshee Queen, or did you examine the vines? Both give clues to this world. Since the "Helpful Tidbits" in the book is upfront about the magical properties of the Blath de Saol - or Blossom of Life, the reader gets a head start on what to expect:
The Bláth de Saol – Blossom of Life
Healing – Rose/Ruby
Resurrection – White Lily/Pearl
Corruption – Black Iris/Onyx
Sight – Hydrangea/Emerald
Fire – Begonia/Garnet
Water – Hyacinth/Aquamarine
Air – Aster/Lapis
Power – Diamond/Morning Glory(C) 2021, Wailing Tempest, T.B. Phillips
Why then, Mr. Phillips, are there two vines with either gems or blooms? Because, dear reader, In Corrupted Realms, there are two realms in which you get to play. The magic exists in both, but the Blossom itself - the source of the power - has untold secrets you must discover along the way. The reader must learn how appearance changes, along with the magical relation to the each gift it bestows.
Alistaria knows, as does every fae child who must perform a ritual before it. It is part of their oral history as told by the characters and not the narrator. This method puts the reader further inside her head, and builds emotional connection to the magic itself. Now how wielding the magic - I have so many more secrets I'm not ready to reveal except in following books - I have to keep selling them, you know, in order to keep publishing more.
Geography and map making - such a fun idea and generally the first place world builders jump to... The story needs the map, and it is extremely helpful in the writing process. I flip back and forth to mine on my monitor or often keep it up the entire time I'm writing.
Want a simple tool? Here it is, something I learned from an aspiring writer at my last visit to Cow Town Comic Con!
I use Inkarnate.com to make a rough draft, and here's the result of an hour's work:
As you can see, it's functional, even if not as beautiful as the maps drawn by the ever talented Cary Beshel, and published in Wailing Tempest. Let's take a closer look at those, and how world building affected the map and not vice versa. Grab the little tool in the center of the map to see the two realms as they exist in both my creative mind and the story.
As you can see, the two realms exist literally over the top of each other, each connected to and affected by the other. Now throw in that magical bush and a raging storm, and it's acceptable to even the pickiest fantasy mind! Again - like the magic, even your geography must be believable.
I hope this little guide provided real examples of world building without coming across overly pompous or all knowing - because even the masters are expanding their craft, just as I.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article, and I truly hope you go back and visit Wailing Tempest if you have not already done so. I am told it is fun to read, and I truly hope it is for you - because it was an absolute delight to build the world and write this story for all of you!
Until next time, as we said in the navy, "Fair Winds and Following Seas" to you all!