The Writer’s Big Bang: Secrets of Worldbuilding (Post by Anna)
The Writer’s Big Bang: Secrets of Worldbuilding
November 27, 2015
Readers often ask questions about my writing — where do story ideas come from, how do I name characters, etc. I love answering questions, because I love hearing from my readers. My newsletter subscribers often receive the benefits of these questions when I share with them brief answers or anecdotes from my life as a writer. But today, I’d like to share with everyone the answer to a common question.
What goes into building a fictional world?
Last fall, when I redesigned my website, I asked my newsletter subscribers for their thoughts on how I could make the site even better. One lucky fan won a $25 gift card for giving me the best suggestion — add information about the worlds I create for my books. I’m still working out the best way to do this, though I’ve started by creating Pinterest boards with images related to my books. The Undercover Elementals board contains some photos I took myself, of a healing vortex behind a rock shop in my local area, Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. This location inspired a similar one on my award-winning upcoming book The Mortal Falls.
But how does a writer invent a world? Ask ten writers and you’ll get ten different answers. I can answer only for myself. I’ll present three points I consider when formulating a universe for my characters to inhabit, using the Undercover Elementals series (The Mortal Falls is book one) as an example. The series takes place partly in the real, mortal world and partly in the Unseen realm, a parallel world of magic and immortal beings.
- Paranormal vs. normal. Even in a paranormal romance, some characters will be normal humans. Travis Blackwell, the skeptical sheriff in The Mortal Falls, does not believe in the supernatural. His reactions to paranormal events are firmly rooted in his logical worldview and affect the story in interesting ways. I built my world to accommodate mundane (as in normal) characters like Travis, as opposed to sidelining them to focus solely on the paranormal world.
- The rules of magic. Just like in Star Trek, where the futuristic technology has limits and strict rules about how it works, a paranormal world must have limits too. Sure, some characters have magical abilities — like teleporting or controlling the elements — but those powers must have limits. The boundaries might be natural or magically imposed on the character. In the world of Undercover Elementals, bargains and debts carry magical weight; however, you can’t call in a ten-dollar debt by ordering the debtor’s death. The punishment must be commensurate to what’s owed. I gave bargains and debts even more rules, but I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by giving away all the secrets!
- I swear, in every fantasy movie the characters all speak with English accents — even if the actors are American. Why? It’s a mystery for the ages. In the Undercover Elementals series, I gave some of the characters from the Unseen realm accents drawn from the mortal world. In The Mortal Falls, I have Nevan (the hero) explain to Lindsey (the heroine) why this is, but in reality I just thought it would be fun. Nevan speaks with an Irish brogue, but he is far from a genuine Irishman. His speech patterns do not reflect modern Irish folk, and this is a purposeful choice. The familiar accents lend the supernatural characters a false normalcy in contrast with their alien traits, a dichotomy I enjoy.
Now you know a little about the writer’s Big Bang, creating a universe from scratch. What else are you dying to know about the worlds of my books? Share your ideas and I’ll put them on my list of things to include on the “Inside the World” pages I’m hard at work creating for my website.
I’d also be happy to answer any general questions about worldbuilding. So ask away!