Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: epic fantasy

Oh, and it looks like we’re in Medieval England…again…

I’m Kim Alexander back to talk about fantasy world-building. This time I’m looking at those writers who make every heroine in their stories a—wait for it—princess.

This is different from Chosen One Syndrome, because when it comes down to it, every protagonist is a chosen one; you’ve chosen to write about them. In this installment, I’ll be talking about working for a living. (More about Chosen One Syndrome in an upcoming blog post!)

When we create fantasy lands like, oh, “Gondfloria” (pop. 2 mill. unicorns), it’s easy to use the default: faux medieval Europe. If we have a bunch of forbidding, craggy, windswept mountains with impenetrable fortresses (I always feel like it should be ‘fortressi’ even though I know better) atop them, the next thing we’re gonna do is make our main character a princess. (Or a prince, I don’t know your life.)

I’m here to suggest to be brave and try something else. I’m not saying we have to make our enchanted land of Gondfloria into an Arctic survivalist encampment. But, we need to think a little bit outside the box…okay, dungeon, especially if the dungeon is full of Northern European royalty.

(Full disclosure: the main character of my novel, The Sand Prince, is – as the title suggests – a prince. But I hasten to add that he’s astonishingly bad at it.)

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel I pick up is crewed by the same group:

  • The sullen yet hot warrior who is certainly hiding a secret (it probably has to do with sex)
  • The sassy thief
  • The wise elder (also a thief, possibly retiring, clearly not going to make it to the sequel)
  • And of course our hero, the member of nobility who under the cover of darkness runs with a bad crowd because Daddy Issues.

Any of them may be masquerading as the opposite gender because it’s…daring. My money is on the sassy thief.

Don’t any of these people have jobs? And no, I’m not counting ‘thief’ as a job. You can’t put it on a resume unless you’re actually applying to be a thief.

Even if we’ve decided it’s written in stone that Gondfloria has forests and castles and bears, we can still explore the lives of people living there without falling back on ‘princess’ or ‘thief.’

Here are a few suggestions, on the house: bear wrangler, bee keeper, lute carver, magical bee keeper (the bees, not the person), cook, fixer for the local mob boss, mob boss, magical bee keeper (the person, not the bees – gods, keep up!), innkeeper, wench (if you have an inn, you’ve got to have a wench; I don’t make the rules), bard, dog boy, horse girl, and then way down at the bottom, thief, and finally, princess. You’re welcome.

Look, we want our story to stand out in the enormous ocean of similarly themed and titled books. We can do that by either taping a $20 bill to the inside cover of each and every one…or by making it unique.

I look forward to reading your take on a hot yet sullen magical bee keeper who lives in the misty woods of Gondfloira. Feel free to get on your magical sassy pants and sprinkle some flash fiction in the comments. Also any suggestion for other cool roles (characters) who’ve been forgotten, overlooked, or given little or no love. Maybe one not yet thought about?

Oooooh, extra XP points!

Unicorn trainers? Those suckers are magical so surely they could be house-trained right? Dude in charge of the “Pigeon Messaging Service” that later was forced into rebranding and a name change because PMS a really bad name for a business in communication (one not involving knives and chocolate). Use your imagination! ALSO!

Are you tired of ye same olde same olde? Losing that loving feeling for fantasy because, when it’s all the same, that is well, to be blunt, the OPPOSITE of fantasy?

Next time: The Chosen One, or, It is foretold that you and you alone will fix this coffee maker and save mornings for all of Gondfloria!

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday, which today means, not just me, Cait Reynolds, but also Kim Alexander! Today, we begin by not only sharing the obligatory Denny Basenji picture, but also ONION! Because who doesn’t need more Onion in their lives? RIGHT?

Denny and Onion. Together at last.

Kim recently came to visit me (okay, she came to visit her brother, but I live in the same state), and we indulged in various shenanigans. Thankfully, none of which resulted in either of us needing bail money. But it is always within the realm of possibilities.

We decided that since have…er…taken up residence on Kristen’s blog and are teaching classes together, it would be good for everyone to know a bit more about us. So, today is a fun post with a Q&A.

So how do you two know each other, anyway?

Kim: We had the same publicist at a now-defunct publishing house! So we spent a lot of time drying each other’s tears. Cait used to like to prank call and pretend she was the New York Times book reviewer, it really brought up my spirits.

Cait: I pretty much knew we were soulmates when she sent me a mug that says, “We go together like drunk and disorderly.” Add in trips to see each other, questionable plans for larceny at Book Expo America every year, and a mutual love of the distillery industry, and well…yeah.

Out on the town. Together. Not committing felonies. At least, none that were detectable.

In a Thunderdome-style-loser-leave-town cage match, who do you see coming out as the victor?

Kim: Well, I’m scrappy, but she’s a lot more aggressive, and she fights dirty. On the other hand, I do store up my rage, and I have a lot stored up.

Cait: I’m just gonna come out and say it. Me. I would win. Don’t let my innocent looks and sunny attitude fool you. I’m a tough OG. I ran a playground gang in second grade.

What’s your favorite historical period to obsess over and why?

Kim: I am all about Dark Ages Europe. If there is the word ‘plague’ in the blurb, I will read it. It was a time (I think) that the walls between the real and unreal were much thinner–maybe because we had far fewer distractions, and life was so uncertain.

Cait: Really? I have to pick one? Whatever! Nobody puts Baby in a corner! I’m going to say France from 1600-1900. That’s right. Multiple time periods. *mic drop.*

What is the name of your pet and what do you actually call said pet?

Kim: Onion is his government name, but we call him Mr. Handsomeness Man, Squeakzilla, My Real Boyfriend, Big Sexy, and Bubba. (He answers to none of the above.)

Cait: Denny Basenji must live with the indignity of being called Bobenny, Smuppy Puppy, Lil’ Poopie, Booberry Banana Face Baby Butt, and Denny M’boops (dictator of a small African country in his mind). He is giving me side eye even as I type this. Oh, and did you know that Kim has a fish? I nearly asphyxiated when I saw this the first time.

What do you think you’d be good at despite having no evidence at all to back you up?

Kim: I feel like I could be excellent at roller derby. I’m low to the ground and I’m good at fighting my way through crowds. Plus, they have cool nicknames, and I am seriously in the market for a nickname.

Cait: I have seriously been worrying about this question for days. Every time I came up with something, I rationalized how I could manufacture evidence to back up my claim. Therefore, I have decided that I would be good at the following: Mars colonist. I’m totally creative and manipulative, and I would have all the other colonists working hard to make sure I survived.

Why do you write fantasy/epic/para/romantic/tentacle?

Kim: I’m much more interested in relationships than battles, so epic fantasy might not be an obvious fit for me. But I am addicted to world building, particularly when it comes to clothing, food, color, jewelry, manners–the things we surround ourselves with that inform who we are. I love the idea of seeing our world through fresh eyes, which my main character gets to do. Also magic!

Cait: I love exploring what it takes to push a character over the edge of disbelief to belief, whether it’s in the paranormal, magic, or the fact that you deserve to be loved. I am fascinated with the transformative power of love in all its forms, from romantic to learning to love yourself.

Our books. You can find them on the “Books” page of this blog!

Tell me about your main character. This will be a startling insight into your personality.

Kim: Are you implying I am a half human/half demon prince who masks his social anxiety with alcohol?

Cait: Well, based on the zombie western Kristen and I are writing, I would have to say there is a bit of me in the 19th century Parisian debutante with social anxiety and agoraphobia, the battle-weary Prussian doctor who is a militant pacifist (because he likes irony), and the sheer cussedness of Zeke the goat.

What can people expect from taking your Fantasy World-Building Classes?

Kim: From me, you’ll learn the value of staring out the window. Not kidding! Most of my worlds are completely invented, so where I do my hardest work is thinking things through. We’ll talk about the stuff that may not immediately occur to you when you sit down to write. Cait has a very different method of approaching her work, which I guess is valid, whatever.

Cait: Kim stares out the window. I’ve literally seen her do it. For me, you’d find me going down a research rabbit hole or making orderly lists and notes of things in my world. That’s how I’ve come to specialize in giving the improbable a hint of the possible, which is what doesn’t just immerse a reader into your world, but pretty much gives them concrete boots and tosses them in the literary east river.

Our three-class bundle. You can also sign up for each class individually, but hey, don’t you WANT all the Cait & Kim you can get?

When you strike it rich and get that JK Rowling theme park money, where will you be found?

Kim: Railay Beach in Thailand. Third hut from the left.

Cait: Venice. In my palazzo. Drinking really, really good espresso.

Desert island book?

Kim: The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which taught me everything I know about writing fantasy, and writing in general.

Cait: The Complete Mapp and Lucia by E.F. Benson. And, I’d probably try to sneak in my “Life with Jeeves” omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse. Because the storytelling, characterization, and use of language is so masterful in these books, you find something new literally every time you read them.

Building a Better Fantasy World, from Planets to Partying

Kim and I have a lot to say about what goes into creating a fantasy culture. So much, in fact, that we had to break it into three classes, and we are STILL leaving stuff out (though, we’ll probably teach those in October). Anyway, here are some descriptions of the classes for you!


FROM THE GROUND UP: PUTTING THE ‘WORLD’ IN WORLD-BUILDING FOR FANTASY

Instructors: Cait Reynolds and Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 13, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

So, you’re writing a fantasy novel. That’s great! But before you put the first spell in the Mage’s mouth or the first sword in the princess’s hand, you have to stop, drop, and roll around in the geography of your bold new world. After all, the better you know the lay of the land, the more at home your readers will be.

This class will look at what goes into the world (literally) beneath your character’s feet. Topics include:

  • Distance: you can get there from here, but how long will it take?
  • How’s the weather?
  • Making maps work for you: where do you put the mountains?
  • What’s for sale? Import, export and commodity.
  • Portals, Doors, dimensions and realms–pick one (or more!).

GETTING TO WORK: PROFESSIONS, POLITICS, AND PRODUCTION IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 20, 2017. 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST

If you’re working on a fantasy novel, chances are you’ve already decided what the ‘feel’ of your universe will be. This class will help you turn that feeling into a working, fleshed out civilization.

Before we’re done, you’ll know where your world stands in technological advances, what everyone does for a living, and how they get to work every day.

From the wench in the pub to the backup janitor who cleans the jump-drive, everyone’s got to have a gig.

Topics include:

  • Bronze, stone, atom, or magic? Level up!
  • What do you do all day? Putting your characters to work.
  • How did you get here? From feet to flying cars (or monkeys), pick a ride.
  • Do you take plastic? Economics beyond ye olde marketplace.

ROMPS AND REVELS: ENTERTAINMENT, LEISURE, AND CULTURE IN FANTASY WORLD-BUILDING

Instructors: Cait Reynolds Kim Alexander

Price: $60.00 USD per class or $150.00 USD for 3-class bundle.

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Wednesday, September 27, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

When a bunch of characters get together, the first thing they’ll do (after slaying the dragon/alien/Elder God) is want to kick back. It’s human(ish) nature!

So let’s explore what the denizens of your fantasy world do on their free time. It can be the serious business of organized religion to the even more serious business of sporting events, to the most serious thing of all–fashion.

In this class, we’ll find out what your characters are reading, what they’re eating, and which team they’re rooting for. Topics include:

  • Celebrity and pop culture – who are the Biebers and Beatles of the world? Why is it important?
  • Ceremony and ritual – religious and/or secular celebrations.
  • What fashion dictates – what your shoes say about you.
  • What is the equivalent of chocolate cake and champagne in your fantasy world, and who gets the first slice?

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

 

Happy Friday! It’s Cait Reynolds, sitting in for Kristen – who is off GALLIVANTING in New Zealand. We’re not jealous. Or bitter. At. All. Anyway, while the cat’s away, other cats will come in and mark their territory.

Today, I am super excited to bring you Kim Alexander, fantasy writer extraordinaire. If you know anything about me, you know that I am a picky b*tch when it comes to fiction, and there are very few authors that I would go back to the well for, especially when it comes to series. Kim is one of them. Consider this a ‘ground-floor tip’ from me. She’s one to watch.

Kim Alexander and Cait Reynolds at Book Expo America 2017 in New York City. (Also, innocent until proven guilty.)

Encomiums aside, Kim is a master world-builder for fantasy. Today, she is going to talk about something very cool: books within books. This concept is interesting from two perspectives.

The first is the purely commercial aspect of it, (I’m looking at J.K. Rowling and sighing wistfully at the thought of her bank account). Books within books give us a chance to expand a series not just with a ‘back list,’ but with a ‘side list’ of related books.

The second aspect is how it brings the reader deeper into the culture and characters. We read, and we read about characters reading. But to read what they read and understand the impact of that reading…well, that’s a pretty awesome immersion technique. (Bonus points if you unraveled my sentences.)

Before we get to Kim, I need to share a quick programming note: Monday’s blog is going to be the announcement of our September 2017 class schedule. We have new instructors, new classes, and so much more planned!

Now, without further ado…Kim Alexander!

* * *

Traffic, Bilbo Baggins, and espresso (lots of it).

First of all, I have to thank your regularly scheduled squatter Cait who SWORE to me it was okay with Kristen that I take over her page today. Cait, you did tell her, right? RIGHT?

So…hello, friend. I’m Kim Alexander, and I live in DC and write epic fantasy. I used to co-run Sirius XM Book Radio, so I got to interview literally hundreds of authors. When my channel got cancelled, I took everything I learned over those past 5 years and started writing my own books. (I also was an old fashioned radio DJ as a dewy youth, so if you were in South Florida or the Keys you may have heard me kick off another seven song set with Aerosmith coming up after the break. After that I was a traffic reporter for approximately seven thousand years; yes, there was a backup on the beltway; yes, I went up in a helicopter a few times; yes, it was both hard and boring.)

These days, like the rest of us, I mostly start my day in a cold sweat, have a good shower-cry, drink a triple espresso, and do my best to get some work done.

It’s kind of hard to do that last part. Especially when we’re going through a tough time.

I feel pretty confident that I’m not the only one who sometimes needs it all to just stop, just for a few minutes. And there’s no place better to escape than taking solace inside of books.

You know who else is working through some tough times? Almost everyone you’ll meet in those pages. I mean, they wouldn’t be there if things were super, going really well, thanks! If Bilbo just hung around the Shire smoking weed and having parties – no, that’s a bad example, I’d still read that. Okay, if Paul never left Caladan and grew up as a minor noble who never even heard of sandworms, that wouldn’t be much of a story.

So, things go wrong, and then they get wronger. Those stressed, heartsick, lonely, frightened characters – like us – sometimes get away by turning to their favorite imaginary books.

Great books that came from books (and some that didn’t).

I love books within books almost as much as I love footnotes.

Since I’m a weirdo, Lovecraft’s Necronomicon springs to mind as one of my favorites, although I don’t think anyone cracks it open with a cup of tea to relax. I could be wrong – I don’t know your life/allegiance to the Elder Gods.

Harry Potter has dozens of them, of course. Strategically releasing these books not only fed the feeding frenzy of all things Potter, it tided fans over until the release of The Cursed Child and the start of a new movie franchise.

Dune not only has pages of them, but references them liberally throughout the text. I’ve always wanted that thumb sized copy of the Orange Catholic Bible to go along with the ‘I will face my fear’ tattoo I’m going to get one day. Yes, I am way into Dune.

Fictional books have always appealed to me, as much, almost as books of fiction. They are the mystery that can never be solved, they impact our heroes (and villains) without ever showing their faces. It’s up to the author whether or not they want to expose their books-within-books to the light of day. They can be a joke, or a key, or commentary on the action. They add another layer.

They have great power.

I wanted one for myself, or rather, my books.

Not writing a book-within-a-book…then writing it.

In my epic fantasy novel The Sand Prince, my hero, the misfit demon prince Rhuun, finds just such a book – a marvelous story of the adventures of a human man and his friends and enemies on the other side of The Door, the mystical portal separating his own world of Eriis from the human lands of Mistra. The humans are a great mystery to the demons of Eriis, as The Door has been locked in the wake of a disastrous war a generation past. Rhuun is something of a mystery as well, even to himself. He sees something in the human book that resonates with him, and he sees a strange echo of himself in the painting of the human man and woman on the cover of his book. He thinks it’s a documentary, a blueprint to a way of behaving in a world he’s desperate to visit.

He’s mistaken.

Originally, the idea that a lurid, over-the-top, bodice-ripping romance novel would serve as my hero’s guide to the human world was a sort of joke. But then, as things tend to do with us writers, the joke got out of hand and took on a life of its own. I began to seriously consider it.

What if, I asked myself, the only thing Rhuun knows about the human world is what he read in this little book, without context? When he meets Lelet, our relatively modern human heroine, how will she react when he calls her a ‘wench?’ (Pretty much as you’d expect.)

To create my book within a book, I first wrote the epigrams appearing at the beginning of each chapter set in Mistra and taken from the imaginary novel, The Claiming of the Duke. I wanted them to reflect the action in the chapter, and I made the prose of each one more purple than the next.

Then, after The Sand Prince was published, I decided to try and write the whole book.

Since I had one character die twice, several murders, many heaving, creamy, alabaster bosoms, and some fairly ridiculous dialogue, I had a lot of work to do retro-fitting an actual plot with real characters into the twelve or so pages of text I’d already written. It was plotting something that hadn’t even really been pantsed.

I kept almost all (not quite all) of the original epigrams from The Sand Prince. I invented a mysterious dead wife for my Duke, and figured out how to kill off that pesky character who meets his maker twice. I have to confess, I sort of became quite fond of the Duke – to my own surprise – since he’s sort of an alpha-jerk. Only sort of, because even he has hidden and honestly kind of kinky depths.

In fact the most fun I had was sprinkling references to both The Sand Prince and its sequel The Heron Prince into The Claiming of the Duke. We find out why Rhuun picks ‘Moth’ as his name in the human world. If you’ve read those books, you’ll easily find your way through the darkened hallways of the once-great crumbling estate of Gardenhour. If not, welcome to Mistra and I hope you enjoy your introduction to my world within a world inside this book.

Oh! Nearly forgot to mention my inspirations and guiding spirits. Allow me to make your life a better place by introducing you to Leeloo and Onion.

Leeloo, pictured right, is A Lady. Onion, left, is Cattus Gooberus. We like to keep them folded away for neat and easy storage.

Here they are staring in obvious terror at something just above my head. Or an invisible bug. Or air.

So, the cats and I will see you in next month’s classes, and we’ll talk a little more about the ways you can make your fictional fantasy world come to life.

About Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander lives in Washington DC where she writes epic fantasy and paranormal romance.  These days she divides her time between writing, rooftop gardening, and waiting on her cats. ?

Her earlier incarnation co-producing Sirius XM Book Radio gave her a look inside the heads of hundreds of best selling authors, and she’s ready to pass on what she learned.

Kim Alexander Online

 

 

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For the month of AUGUST, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

***

CATCH THE LAST CLASSES FOR AUGUST AND WATCH HERE FOR OUR WHOLE NEW LINE-UP OF SEPTEMBER CLASSES!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds and award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson. So click on a tile and sign up!

Blurb - Cait Reynolds
BLURB BOSS: Writing Blurbs that SELL BOOKS. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 10, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
BRAND BOSS! When Your Name Alone Can Sell. $45 USD. Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
PLOT BOSS: Writing novels readers want to buy! $40 USD. Thurs., Nov. 16, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Bad Boys. $45.00 USD. Friday, November 17, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday! I’m back, along with Denny Basenji, opinions on words, and a new haircut.

Also, I do know that I owe everyone my freshman year high school photo. I will post that on Friday. *pinky swear*

So, today, I’m talking about world-building for epic fantasy and science fiction. Of course, there are specifics to each genre that could merit their own blog post (and will eventually get their own blog posts), but for today, I want to talk about what they both have in common, especially when it comes to creating a world that is paradoxically both alien and familiar, comfortable and unpredictable, and just as human as you or I – tentacles notwithstanding.

Two Peas in an Alien Pod

Why are epic fantasy and science fiction similar, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most fundamental problem both face. It’s a misconception on the part of writers that regularly drives me to call upon the holy, withering powers of the Red Pen of Wrath.

 

The problem is this: a premise is not a plot.

I am just as guilty as anyone when it comes to this. I would get the coolest idea for an epic fantasy story with dragons, or a magical sword, or…or…a shy, downtrodden young girl who comes into her magical inheritance and has to save the world. Or, even worse…a space opera or an oppressive alien society bent on conquering a post-apocalyptic Earth…

You get the idea. And, that’s all it is. An idea. It’s a premise, a setting, the faintest concept sketch of a backdrop. It is not a plot. While the plot and characters are shaped by the world we build, we must first have a firm idea of the actual story we want to tell before we go indulging in literal flights of fantasy.

The best, most enduring, and most powerful epic fantasy and science fiction tell stories that are rooted in deep philosophical and ethical questions about how humanity (no matter what the species “we” are in the story) makes choices when pushed at warp speed into a magical corner.

A premise is great, but what is the burning reason why we need to write this story using this setting? If we can answer this question, then we are on the right track and are good to keep going with our world-building.

Culture Shock

Let’s just put it out there from the get-go.

Fantasy that uses the ‘faux medieval fallback’ is lame. Worse, it’s lazy, and I am not going to waste the precious hours of my life reading that crap. If an author can’t be bothered to build a world that goes beyond throwing in some Lord-of-the-Rings-style magic into ‘The Princess Bride,’ then, I can’t be bothered with his or her book.

Science fiction that so blatantly ignores human nature is also lame to the point where it can undermine the believability of an entire premise. For example – and yes, this is going to be controversial, and don’t flame me if I got it wrong because this is based on a memory from years and years and years ago – when I was watching Star Trek: The Next Generation and Captain Picard said that we had evolved beyond the need for money, I laughed. And then, I got mad. Seriously??? I don’t care if it’s dollars or hotel points on Risa, you cannot convince me that given the nature of the personal and psychological problems the TNG cast dealt with demonstrated that humanity had evolved beyond our basic competitive biological nature. We would need some serious genetic rewiring in order to let go of our need to gather and accumulate resources. When I could forget that little issue, sure, the whole premise was great. When I couldn’t? It was like a bad itch with no ideological cortisone to hand.

The absence of technology does not mean a society has to be simplistic with two-dimensional characters like the mustache-twirling villain or the reluctant young hero with chronic self-esteem issues. Conversely, the presence of technology doesn’t automatically cancel out all of society’s more complex, sticky social issues.

Good world-building in these genres should be an uncomfortable process. It should poke and prod at the difficult questions we tend to avoid on an everyday basis. We know we are doing it right when we feel a kind of culture shock, just like when we wake up at 3:00 a.m. in a strange hotel room on the first night of a trip to a foreign country. Sure, it’s a bed and a room, but something about it just feels fundamentally different, no matter how much it is the same.

The More Things Change

When we are creating a future or fantasy world, we obviously have to cover all the bases of politics, religion, education, economics, industry, regionality, food, etc. It’s the kind of exercise in thinking, imagination, and logic that forces us to play every idea six moves out to see if it still works and what else it might effect. However, almost more important than the differences we create are the similarities that we keep.

Not everything needs to be changed and/or renamed. That’s not world-building. That’s complication, not complexity. It’s also the biggest and easiest trap for us to fall into.

A world that is over-complicated and needlessly different puts and keeps distance between the story and the reader, and that’s not even dipping a scaly alien toe into the issues of character development.

So, how do we determine what needs to be changed? Some of it comes from the necessities of the plot, and some of if comes from the implications of physical realities of the setting itself (Dune is a great example of this). At the end of the day, though, we need to ask ourselves some basic questions every time we want to change something:

  • Is it relevant to shaping the character’s personality, motivations, and decisions?
  • Is it necessary to the plot on a macro or micro level as a source of conflict?
  • Can it be used as a stressor to up the tension or accelerate the pace?
The Sand Prince by Kim Alexander

One of the absolutely best examples of this that I have recently read is Kim Alexander’s The Sand Prince. It’s not just epic fantasy and an astoundingly exquisite example of world-building. It’s a riveting, meaningful story with characters I identify with and have come to care about deeply. If you read it (and you should), look at the way she uses food and colors to drive home desperation, hopelessness, anger, and stress. That’s just one small way she uses details to up the stakes for her characters and relentlessly drive the story toward its riveting climax.

And on the Seventh Day, Cait Taught a Class

If you’re feeling exhausted and perhaps even a little overwhelmed by this post, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Even God needed to rest on the seventh day, proving once again that world-building is hard.

However, even God had a system for creation, and I am teaching a tiny, pale version of that on Friday, July 28, 2017 from 7:00-9:00 p.m.

Class Title: Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $35 USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: FRIDAY July 28th, 7:00 PM E.S.T. to 9:00 P.M. EST

Science Fiction and Epic Fantasy are the double agents of the literary world. They simultaneously provide exotic escapism while at the same time serving as a ruthless mirror of contemporary society.

Whether it’s magic or technology, these genres bend rules and toy with the impossible.

However, it is also perilously easy to fall into the trap of bending every rule to make it easy for yourself, your plot, and your characters. When the fantastic becomes too fantastical, your world begins to lose its magic, and readers begin to distance themselves from the emotional impact of the actual story.

This class will cover a wide range of topics, including:

– Etymology: If you are going to make up names for people, places, food, customs, magic/technology, etc., you need to understand the fundamental rules of creating language.

– What’s normal and carries over from our world/time and doesn’t need description vs what is different and should be described

– How much magic or science do you have to know in order to build your world effectively?

– How to keep it real: tips and tricks for keeping your characters relatable to readers, even if they have tentacles/magical powers/chip implants.

– Spotting tired tropes and DOING BETTER. Make your fiction unique. No retreads! “Oh no, not another young, timid girl who becomes magical/laser-wielding social warrior!”

In a world of a gazillion forgettable fantasies and sci-fi stories, let Cait help you take your WORLD & STORY to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. When world building is done right? Fans will be BEGGING to do fan fiction with the worlds you create.

World Building GOLD

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus one hour of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story. 

World Building PLATINUM

You get the class (recording included in price) with Cait plus two hours of personalized one-on-one consulting regarding YOUR story and bonus worksheets. These worksheets will efficiently guide you through in-depth world-building and research, providing you with consistency for your writing and an excellent reference/style sheet for your editor and proofreader.

Register Here!

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For the month of JULY, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES WITH USA Today Best Selling Author CAIT REYNOLDS!

Obviously, I have my areas of expertise, but I’ve wanted for a long time to fill in some gaps on classes I could offer.

Cait Reynolds was my answer.

She is an unbelievable editor, mentor and teacher and a serious expert in these areas. She consults numerous very successful USA Today and NYTBS authors and I highly, highly recommend her classes.

Lasers & Dragons & Swords, Oh MY! World Building for Fantasy & Science Fiction July 28th w/ Cait Reynolds $35/ GOLD $75/ PLATINUM $125

Classes with MOI!

Blogging for Authors July 20th $50 ($150 for GOLD)

Branding for Authors  July 27th $35

Classes with Lisa Hall-Wilson

Growing An Organic Platform On Facebook July 22nd $40