Today I’m pleased to host fellow author Beth Barany, whose new book Henrietta and the Dragon Stone (Book 2 of the Five Kingdom series) is available now. On this stop of her blog tour, Beth describes her process of world building in fantasy.
(Be sure to read to the end to find out how to win a copy of Beth’s book!)
World Building in Fantasy
by Beth Barany
I interview my characters to learn about my fantasy world. And if my main character can’t tell me what I need to know, I choose a secondary character. In fact, I interview all my characters, even the minor ones, to learn about my world. Sometimes, I’ll even invent an “off screen” character to learn about something my characters don’t know, that I think impacts my story. That’s sometimes how characters get “on screen”!
I start with the facts and lore that just flows from my subconscious, and research the rest. For example, my heroine, Henrietta the dragon slayer, was trained to be a blacksmith and sword smith. Why? Because I’m interested in those things. So I researched by visiting a blacksmith and reading about medieval sword construction and use. That was fun!
I start with a character, her goal, motivation, and conflict, and her backstory and history, then start developing the world with that material. From there, other characters and their stories start fleshing out the world. Then I look at plot, and as I develop that, I come up with more questions and answers about the world. Then, as I write and edit my book, I answer more questions still. And when my critique group partners ask me questions, then I answer those, too. I don’t sit down with the list below and fill in the blanks. Well, I tried that once, and it didn’t work for me.
Questions to Ask while World Building
Here are some of the things I ask my characters about:
- Language: Does your world have different languages? How did they evolve?
- Origin Tales: How the world came to be.
- Folklore: Maybe your characters have a strong oral story telling culture, like mine do. So I use lore as epigraphs (the poetry before each chapter), and also weave the lore into the story to form a subtle resonance on the theme.
- Family tree: Knowing this roots your character in her/his background, and can be good fodder for inner and outer conflict.
- Jobs/professions: What kind do people have? Do men and women divide work, share it? What kind of training do your characters receive, if any? How are they trained and by whom?
- Gender roles: See above; also explore people’s attitudes about gender roles.
- Clothing/Costumes: How do people dress? What do your characters wear and why? This category can also include body marking, piercings, hairstyle, standards of physical beauty, jewelry… Where does fabric come from? Who makes it?
- Weather: Does your place have four seasons? Some of my kingdoms do, some don’t. That depends on their geography.
- Flora & Fauna: How important this is will depend on your story. Since I write adventure fantasy where there is a lot of wandering and traveling, I needed to root each locale. I did that by deciding that one location would look like Sonoma County where I grew up. Another would be tropical, still another would be volcanic. So each location has a deciding feature, like the oak trees of Sonoma County, and I use that to anchor the setting.
- Food: How it’s planted/harvested/hunted/gathered; what do people eat and when; how it’s cooked. Who cooks? What’s poisonous?
- Geography: I love maps, and Orson Scott Card starts every story with a map. I don’t but as the story develops I sketch many out.
Special Blog Tour Giveaway: Grand Prize
Beth is giving away 1 signed copy of Henrietta and the Dragon Stone and 1 signed copy of Henrietta the Dragon Slayer. She will mail a copy to the winner anywhere in the world.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Beth is also giving away e-book copies of Henrietta and the Dragon Stone at each blog tour stop—including this one!
Where to find Henrietta and the Dragon Stone:
About Beth Barany
Beth Barany writes magical tales of romance and adventure to transport readers to new worlds where anything is possible.