Tag Archives: Worldbuilding

As Much Weirdness as Will Hang Together

Me again! A bit earlier in the month, I spoke about one of my favorite authors, Daniel Abraham, and what I believe constitutes the “special sauce” that separates his writing from that of others.

Now, I’ll be subjecting you, dear readers, to my analysis of my own writing. It tends to grow from seeds. I say “seeds” in the plural rather than the singular because I rarely begin a story with a single idea. A single interesting idea is generally not enough (for me at least) to build a story upon. I’ll file the idea away (writing it down if I’m smart) and wait until another, totally different idea, strikes me. If I find that this second idea is challenging–but not impossible–to merge with the earlier notion, a strange kind of resonance begins and my inspiration module kicks into gear. One thing builds upon another builds upon another and on and on they snowball.

That’s how two disconnected ideas:

  1. A race of beings imprisoned in a miniature replica of an entire world
  2. Cities built into the bones of mountain-sized monsters

merged to create the world of Unwilling Souls. These two ideas had, initially, nothing to do with one another. They wouldn’t hang together as-is, so they required tweaking.

Who was this race of imprisoned beings, and why had they been locked away? I decided that these were the gods, locked away in a human-built prison after a failed attempt to exterminate humankind. And the prison itself, rather than simply being a replica of the outside world stored in some fantasy version of the Indiana Jones warehouse, was in fact carved into the very core of the outer world. Prisons require jailers, who require a place to live. The center of a planet is not terribly comfortable and is rather full, so I envisioned a hollowed-out space surrounding the prison-core itself, the magma of the mantle held in check by magic of immense power. In this hollow space, the jailers would live and work, protecting the surface world above from the gods that had sought to destroy them. These jailers would be blacksmiths of a sort, for since the core of an Earthlike planet is made of metal, metalworkers would be needed to maintain this prison of the gods.

So where do the giant beast-bones come in, and why do people live in them rather than building normal cities? Well there were normal cities, it turns out, before the gods began their war against humankind. But in the last gasps of that war, as they realized they were going to lose, the gods summoned up great beasts of truly mind-boggling size (for a real-world comparison, these would laugh at kaiju, chowing down easily on any iteration of Godzilla you can think of). These beasts went on to all remaining cities as well as most of the world before humankind rallied and killed them in turn. Then, having little else to base rebuilding their civilization, they turned to the bones of these beasts and used them as foundations for their new homes. Being magical in nature, the bodies lingered on well past when they otherwise would have. They also retained some other … interesting properties.

So there we have it. A setting chock-full of weirdness that nonetheless hangs together coherently. Or at least, my definition of coherently. What? And incidentally, I’ll be hosting the blog in July for an entire MONTH of good stuff about setting, so stay tuned!

But setting is only part of a story, and worldbuilding alone is not enough. It’s characters that drive a story, after all. And in a world this strange, I wanted characters who were grounded in believable (if larger-than-life) behaviors and personalities. The first story I conceived of for this world was a short story (serving as a prequel to the novels) based a little on one of the oldest there is: Romeo and Juliet, the star-crossed lovers. Larimaine and Cassia mine were called. Because Larimaine’s ancestors had opposed the gods in the war and Cassia’s had joined with them, their relationship struggled to bridge an almost endless societal divide. (Also, Larimaine wasn’t nearly good enough for Cassia). They don’t work out, of course, being star-crossed and therefore tragic (but not, like, DEAD tragic) by nature.

I write this way, with pieces finding odd connections to other pieces, because I find great joy in it. An individual idea will rarely spark my interest enough grow into something lager. But as multiple ideas start crashing around together, they bring out nuances in one another they could never have achieved alone. Finding these connections, finding ways to make them all fit together like puzzle pieces from different sets merging to form a picture both impossible and utterly believable is what keeps pulling me back to the keyboard. I’ve always been fascinated with how the world works, with how pieces of science and society and behavior fit together.

Writing fantasy is, at its core, simply a way of determining how a world works. It’s a secret sauce tasty to both myself and, so far at least, my readers!

About the Author: Gregory D. Littleheadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (all right, during) classes. His novels Unwilling Souls and Ungrateful God are available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens, A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology, and Dragon Writers: An Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.


Descriptive Genre Novels

Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, novels were suddenly available to the general public at greatly reduced cost. The paper wasn’t always the best quality and plagiarism was rampant between different countries — sometimes even between regions or states. People didn’t travel much and there was no Internet to bring rich, colorful multimedia presentations to someone’s eye at a whim.

Literature was their window to the world and beyond. The descriptions and eloquent language had to give the reader an understanding of places they’d never been to and most likely would never actually see. In a way, the genre novels were a combination of travel books combined with a fascinating tale.

Marie CorelliTake, for example, the best-selling author Marie Corelli. She was read by the masses more than HG Wells, Edgar Allen Poe, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — combined. In her book, Vendetta, she introduces the Italian landscape with intricate detail and flowing prose. Everything is richly described that let the readers “see” through the text. Colors, sounds, smells — all were documented to bring the landscape to life.

This method of novel-writing remained active and at the top of the best-sellers list until the 1980s. James Michener’s doorstopper novels included when the Earth was forming from dust up until the actual story took off. This detailed understanding of the environment was just as important to his novels because the landscape was an important character. Alaska, one of his last novels, explained volumes of how life was like in the frozen, snowy wastelands. Without that understanding, the story would be missing something important for the reader to incorporate in their thinking.

James A. Michener's Post-1980’s, the writing landscape changed. People had less time to spend on reading and publishers pushed for stories that started when the action began. Michener and James Clavell would have a tough time getting published these days without their extensive bookselling record.

One of the reasons for this sea change can be blamed on the Internet. Instead of having an author interpret and describe an exotic location, people can fire up their favorite search engine and watch travel videos and see pictures of daily life in far-off lands. We no longer need the words. For some genres, this is a sad thing.

With the hustle-and-bustle of daily living, coupled with the constant barrage of time-absorbing activities as far away as the cell phone in your pocket, nobody has the time for a beautifully written novel. They want to jump in, read the good parts, and jump out. The older readers are the ones who miss the prose the most.

Probably the one spot where this is less apparent is the speculative fiction markets. Science fiction and fantasy are based in places beyond our experience, so the author still has to do some worldbuilding. The details, alas, are typically lacking because the publishers want the action and not the description. Sometimes it is a good thing to take a break after a wild chase and a fierce battle to rest — both the characters and the reader — by delving into some more history or landscape description. At least, it’s something I miss these days.


About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a disabled US Navy veteran speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, third-party D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.

World Building in Dark Fiction

Guest Post by Pamela K. Kinney

Whether your tale is set in a real place or an imagined one, you need to establish your characters’ world so that the reader can suspend disbelief and fully engage with the story. Not only horror, this includes from science fiction and fantasy. There must be reasons why a character or a whole slew of them reacts as they do in their world. Their actions, their thoughts, the reason they fall in love or hate someone, why they kill, every bit of their reactions comes from how their universe revolves. World building determines the place your characters live in.

Pamela K. Kinney - Paranormal Petersburg - Web72dpiWorld building is the process of constructing an imaginary world. World building in horror and dark fantasy often involves the creation of a back-story, maybe history, geography, ecology, supernatural creatures, and people for the novel, novella, or even a short story. The short story will consist of a scene unlike the longer novella or novel. This can be lesson from a sentence to a paragraph’s worth of world building.

The more differences to the mundane world you write into your plot, the more the writer should focus on getting those details right. Set them so they almost fade into the background, and that way, the reader will focus on the characters and the story. There is no need to info dump those aspects of the world right away in the first chapter or two.

It is not just the big details the writer should worry about, but those small things that can escape attention. Small details sharpen the world. Think of a movie. You have the main actors. But you also have the extras, or background as they are called in the movie business. You’re thinking, “No, extras aren’t that important, not when your hero or heroine are the real focus of the story.” Take a look at a haunted house story, It’s not just the humans who are stuck in the building and trying to get out. The house itself and the ghosts are the extras or background. All this makes your story a more rounded one.

Be consistent in your world building rules. Keep them as you delve deeper into the story. Once the manuscript is done, editing will help in catching these kinds of mistakes. I have files on all my characters in my stories, adding their traits, what they do for a living, and much more. This keeps straight my characters and the world they exist in. After all, if what you’ve written goes against any of the rules you’ve created in your world, then there has to be a logical, rational reason, reasonable to you, but most of all, to your readers. Such as if iron is poisonous to the fey, but suddenly later in the story, the character can touch a fence of iron, there must be a reason why they can do this at the time (maybe they had found a spell that enables them to). Don’t just have them unable to do something because it isn’t convenient to your story. Being consistent is what makes the suspension of disbelief your readers are willing to have if you do it right.

Your world’s historical past should not overwhelm or dominate your current story. If it does, then you will bore your readers, most of all, you’re writing the wrong fiction. A paragraph of it is all you need.

When writing fantasy, building a world that is extraordinary and vivid is often the heart of the tale, even the dark world of a horror novel. The stranger that fantastical world is, the more important it becomes for the author to create a reality that readers can relate to and make them feel part of it.  Throw horror into the equation and now the writer must add a visceral component into the mix. When it comes to horror, Hell might be the world the writer is building. Don’t just stick to the physical horrors. Develop the emotional and psychological plight of it. For horror is about the emotion; the fear you want the reader to feel as they read. This would flesh out the horror world; make it 3D and not a flat world.

Magic is not only in high fantasy, but it can used be in dark fantasy or horror.  Look at George RR Martin’s Games of Thrones—magic is as much a part of the frightening elements and monsters as the noble families plotting to kill each other are. There’s a reason tropes like magic is evil and black magic exist. Take deals with the Devil, or human sacrifice. Look at the world that JK Rowling built. How dark this young adult fantasy grows as it progresses, to more horror than light fantasy.

Now, get out there and start planning the world of your scary story. One that will raise the hairs on the back of the reader’s neck.



About the Author:

Author of Haunted Richmond, Haunted Richmond II, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales, and Virginia’s Haunted Historic Triangle: Williamsburg, Yorktown, Jamestown, & Other Haunted Locations, Pamela K. Kinney has written fiction that enables her readers to journey to worlds of fantasy, go beyond the stars, and dive into the vortex of terror. One of her stories proved heart-stopping enough to be runner up for 2013 WSFA Small Press Award. As Sapphire Phelan, she also writes bestselling, award winning paranormal romance with dark heroes and heroines with bite!
Find out more about her at her websites: http://www.pamelakkinney.com/ and http://www.sapphirephelan.com/.

About the Book:

Travel to Petersburg, Virginia, and the surrounding areas of Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Prince George, Dinwiddie, and nearby Ettrick-Matoaca, Enon, and Chester to discover what spirits, monsters, UFOs, and legends await the unwary. Why are the Union and Confederate spirits still fighting the Civil War in the battlefields? Who is the lady in blue who haunts Weston Plantation House? Learn what the phantoms at Peter Jones Trading Post will do to keep from being photographed. Drink tea with runaway slaves still hiding on the top floor above the Blue Willow Tea Room. Are Edgar Allan Poe and his bride still on their honeymoon at Hiram Haines Coffee and Ale House? Why does the Goatman stalk young lovers? Meet the ghosts of Violet Bank Museum that greet guests at the house. Hauntingly active as they share space with the living, the dead refuse to give up their undead residency.

The Myth Behind the Days

The God Mars
The God Mars
Humans are incredibly imaginative creatures. When faced with concepts that cannot be explained with the current level of technology, we create elaborate stories to fill in the holes. Of course, as time passes and our level of understanding increases, we are able to replace these stories and they become the myths and legends of old. However, we never truly leave these legends alone, and if you look closely, you can see their memories reflected in modern day life.

Mythology can be seen in many aspects of our lives from the names of the months to the stories we tell our children. Even the days of our week, words that many of us use daily, are remnants of these past gods and their influence upon the world.

This will be posted on a Tuesday. A simple word that probably resonates more to you as the second day of the workweek than an old homage to the lost gods. The real story, however, relates Tuesday with the Roman god Mars. Mars, or Tiw in Old English, is the Roman god of war, and second in the pantheon only to Jupiter. Tuesday (Tiwesdæg) is a reminder that Mars was always watching with his spear raised, and that you only lived in peace because you won the war.

Next we look at Wednesday. Wednesday was named after Wōden, the Old English equivalent of the Norse god Odin. Wōden and Odin both of whom gain their origins from the Roman god Mercury, who is the messenger of the gods. His appearance was very close to that of Hermes to include the winged shoes and the herald’s staff. He is attributed as being a psychopomp, which is a being who guides the dead to the afterlife. There are even stories of Mercury bringing dreams to people as they slept.

Thursday is probably easily recognizable these days as remembering Thor, the Norse god of thunder. Thor is well known for his giant hammer, Mjolnir. This hammer had the ability to return to Thor’s hand when thrown. Even with all his power, he wore a belt that doubled his strength. He is known for his temper and was a dangerous warrior. Thor was a favorite god among the working class. Many wore necklaces of Thor’s Hammer and asked him for blessings of fertility.

Friday was named after Freya, the Norse goddess of sex, beauty, love, and fertility. She was awesome. She was beautiful, a leader, and she had a chariot pulled by cats! She owned an amazing necklace that was coveted greatly and a cool falcon feather cloak. Back in the day, Friday was considered a lucky day. It was a day to get married, have children, plant crops, etc. This was all due to the blessings the goddess would grant on her day.

Of all the days of the week, Saturday is the only one that maintains its Roman origin. Saturday is named after Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. Saturn’s influence can be seen in Roman lore as a golden age, or time of abundance, among men.

Sunday, named for the Norse goddess Sunne (or Sunna) also known as Sól. Sunne rides across the sky in her chariot pulled by the horses Allsvinn and Arvak (meaning “Very Fast” and “Early Rising”.) Sunne is said to be pursued by a wolf named Skoll. (In fact, Eclipses are said to be the cause of the wolf getting close enough to take a bite out of the sun.) Sunne will continue until the Ragnarök, the “end of days’ for the gods. During Ragnarök, many of the gods, such as Odin, Thor, Tyr, Heimdall, etc, will be killed. Sunne herself is said to be finally caught and consumed by Skoll. Once this happens, Sunnes daughter will take her place and provide sun to a new world of peace and love.

And we’ll end with a beginning. Monday gets its name from the old English Mōnandæg, or Moon day. The Greek Goddess of the moon is Selene, or Luna to the Romans. She is depicted as a beautiful woman with long black hair. She rides across the sky in a silver chariot that is pulled by either a pair of horses, a team of oxen, or even dragons. She is well known for her love affairs, including one with Zeus, the king of gods. Selene is a favorite among poets and authors for the love of the moonlight.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Looking at the history and myth behind simple words we use to tell what day of the week it is does more than tell a nice story, it adds depth to our world. You can take one word and link it back to centuries of people and gain an understanding of how their minds worked. As you build your worlds, maybe you should take some time and look at how the past has influenced and defined the people and their beliefs. It can be the little things that not only provide a little bit of depth and dimension to your world, it can be a fun exercise to get your ready for writing in a new world.