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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Building a World from Scratch.

Writing fantasy generally requires the invention of a world different from the one in which we live our daily lives; especially epic fantasy. I’m currently writing volume three of such a trilogy. So, how did I go about developing the world where my story takes place?

The first consideration in fiction has to be ‘theme’. As always in such tales, the basic underlying theme is good versus evil. But there are other ideas layered over that. I’m fascinated by the continuing discussion whether religions rely on what seems like self-delusion to persuade the faithful to join and remain in their ranks. Another aspect of life that intrigues me is the duplicity of our attitude to nakedness. And the way that power is given, often voluntarily, to those who least deserve it has always baffled me. So, these themes are also explored in the books.

Primarily, of course, it’s a story, an adventure story with romantic elements, and a means to entertain my readers. I’m thoroughly enjoying weaving the tale. We all love stories; have done since the very beginnings of language.

Before I could ‘invent’ my world, I had to develop systems of history, politics, religions, customs and traditions. I considered how my characters, in their separate societies, would dress, where and how they would live, what would occupy them and how they would make their various ways through the world. I developed ideas on the evolution of villages, towns and cities. I invented names for these places and the characters who would inhabit them. Names that had to follow some sort of logic in formation, of course. I researched travel by sea, river, horse, camel and on foot. And then I studied some geology and geography so that I could devise a realistic map for my world.

Maps and fantasy are almost inseparable. I wanted mine to do more than locate the places featured in the story; I wanted the map to be a central part of that story and an item of interest in itself. I drew it on a large (A1 – 34x23 inches for those who don’t know) piece of sugar paper in ink, with a drawing pen. I gave it some relief, so that there are mountains, plains, deserts, forests, rivers, seas, islands and lakes. I wanted to make this a real place in the mind of the reader, so it had to be as real as possible to me first. And, I confess, I borrowed from our own beautiful Earth to arrive at a credible outline of my lands.

Once drawn, I populated it with the names I’d made up, checking each on Google to ensure none of the chosen names belonged to anyone else or meant something inappropriate in a foreign language (there is a story that Julie Andrews’ book for children, The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles caused her some embarrassment when she was told that ‘whangdoodle’ had a rather obvious and obscene meaning in Australia. I’ve been unable to discover any truth in this, and suspect it’s apocryphal, but it still serves as a warning about the use of unknown words.).

All this work took time and all had to be done before I could write a word of the story. Over the period of time it took to complete the preparation and development, the map turned, as hoped, from off-white to a shade of parchment. A little damp here and there installed stains and a few folds creased the map so that it now looks like a piece of ancient cartography that has undertaken several journeys. I added a compass and a rule in kilometres and miles so that readers can appreciate distances. I’ve reproduced it here for you to explore, if you wish.


Only after all this preparation did I begin to think about writing the story. But that’s for another post. It will come, as will some character sketches, to whet your appetite for the first volume, which I hope will be published later this year. Meanwhile, the third volume is growing, standing at 111,000 words as I compose this post. That means I’m a little over half way through the first daft of the final book. Books one and two are ready for publication.
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