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Building a Fantasy World February 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing.
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I haven’t really done many posts on the fantasy side of writing so far, so I thought I’d start one few.  This first one is about building fantasy worlds, and the next two will also be related.  I’m no expert on this, so it’s really just my own personal opinion and knowledge from things I’ve read.

fantasy-world-2The importance of world building

If you are writing a fantasy novel (as I am), you simply cannot afford to skip this step.  You can have the greatest story ever imagined, but it won’t work if you don’t have a world for it to take place in.

As fantasy stories tend to take place in worlds different to ours, it’s particularly important that the parameters of a writer’s fantasy world are clearly defined before the actual writing commences.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be the very first thing you do – you can create your characters or develop your plot first – but you will have to at least have a fair idea of how your fantasy world operates before you begin.  There are several reasons for this.  First, the world can shape your characters and your plot by putting everything in perspective.  Your characters’ motives or the plot you’ve planned might not make sense in the wrong context.  Second, it can help you visually imagine your scenes better when you write.  Third, your writing will flow a lot smoother if you don’t have to stop every two minutes to think about the characteristics of your world to ensure things still make sense.

Some common things in your fantasy world to figure out may include:

  • Races
  • Geography
  • History
  • Fauna and Flora
  • Food
  • Political/Economic Structure
  • Religion
  • Magic
  • Technology
  • Weapons
  • Architecture
  • Languages
  • Culture

The list goes on and on.  There’s no limit to how extensive your world building can be.

Use your imagination

This is the best time to let your imagination fly.  As long as it’s not too stupid, give it a shot.  If your friends laugh at the idea, then it might be good to think of something else.  Try and think outside the box – everyone will tend to stick to things they know or seen or read before.  There’s nothing wrong with cliches if you can pull it off, but the best way to distinguish your world from the ones that have already been done to death is to make it unique.  It doesn’t need to be revolutionary; it could be subtle differences – as long as it makes an impression on the reader you’ve succeeded.

You don’t need to tell the reader every facet of your world in your novel – it is really more for your own benefit than anything else.  Fantasy novels no longer start with the Tolkien-style prologue that explains the whole world to the reader before the story begins.  You can try, but most authors prefer to leak details of the world bit by bit to their readers to keep things interesting.  There’s no need to reveal the mundane details of everyday life in the world – stick to descriptions that are necessary to keep the story moving along.

It should also be pointed out that there is nothing wrong with continuing to develop your world as you write, to refine and add more detail to it, as long as it does not contradict what you’ve already written or the rest of the story.

fantasy-world-1My experience

Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is usually always the starting point for fantasy worlds.  There’s nothing wrong with starting from there and then build in unique characteristics to make your own world unique.

For me, my starting point was some old RPG video games I played as a kid (which, not surprisingly, featured plenty of elements from Tolkien’s world).  It was something that had been done a million times before, but it didn’t stop me from thinking it was an awesome story.  But as I started exploring this world, the story began taking its own shape.  Thing started to evolve.  I changed a few of the races to make it more interesting; I changed the characteristics and culture of the existing races; I changed the interaction and history between the races.  Before I knew it, the story was taking a life of its own.  I then started developing religions, and created an entire history of the world, including a detailed time line.  I began researching weapons and mythical creatures, architecture, horticulture – I just took myself on a journey into the fantasy world I created.  And it was extremely fun.

By the time I was done, nothing was the same as I had originally envisioned it (in a good way).  Now when I write the novel, the visual images just appear in my mind.  I no longer have to stuggle to imagine what the world looks like.  It’s made my writing a lot smoother and easier.

Lastly, just two words of advice.

First, don’t get too carried away with the world building or else you’ll never start writing.  Try and stick with the things that will affect the story that is being told in your novel.

Second, be as imaginative as you want, but still try and keep things inherently logical and coherent.  Readers can only suspend belief if you make it possible for them to do so.  You will turn them off your story if your world is contradictory or doesn’t make sense as a matter of logic.


There a lot of different resources on fantasy world building out there that explain things a lot better than I can.

‘Creating a Realistic Fantasy World’ by Penny Ehrenkranz is a good starting point for those who want to read more about this subject.

Comprehensive Q&A from the SFWA on Fantasy Worldbuilding by Patricia C Wrede.

Article from SFWA on Building New Worlds by Stephen Baxter.

Magical World Builder by Stephanie Cottrell Bryant.

The world building page from the excellent Elfwood Tutorials by Michael James Liljenberg.

From the master herself, Creating the Fantasy World by Sara Douglass.

A couple of articles on fantasy world building from Fantasy Fiction Factor (the online magazine for fantasy writers) – World Building for Science Fiction and Fantasy by Tina Morgan and World Building 101 by Lee Masterston

Other links: Fantasy Worldbuilding Resources site (including recommended books).

Writers’ Forums: helpful or a waste of time? February 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Novel, On Writing.
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I’ve never been a big fan of online chit chat with people I don’t know.  As a result, I’ve generally tried to avoid online forums of any kind.

But as a writer working on my first draft, I sometimes get overwhelmed by insecurities.  Is my writing technique up to scratch?  Does my plot make sense?  Are my characters too cliched?  Do I even know what I’m doing?

I was alerted to the Absolute Writer Water Cooler a couple of weeks ago, and I must say it is a fantastic community for aspiring writers to at least check out occasionally, if not join.  The front page might seem a little overwhelming at first because of the plethora of different categories, but once you spend a bit of time there you’ll see it’s not so intimidating (it’s even got a sub-page on Blogging – there’s even a debate about whether WordPress or Blogger is better!)

It’s not just a place to ask and get answers to your stupid questions (though you can certaintly  do that) – I found that there are many useful posts for aspiring writers and novel enthusiats of all genres – whether its helpful tips or friendly advice.  You can even ask visting literary agents and editors your questions about publishing.

I try not to spend too much time there though – once you get into it you might find yourself stuck for hours.  But it’s good to see that there are so many other writers out there trying to fulfil their dreams.  It’s not a bad place to go once in a while to get a little bit of inspiration or confirmation.

Are there any other good forums for writers out there?

Surprise! Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t win this time February 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment.
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The best image I could find online

For quite some time it seemed Slumdog Millionaire was going to sweep all the major awards on its way to capturing the Best Picture (and Best Director) Oscar next month. 

But it wasn’t to be.  At least not at the Evening Standard British Film Awards handed out last night.

Slumdog Millionaire lost out to Hunger for Best Picture, and Danny Boyle lost out in the Best Director category to Stephen Daldry for The Reader

Other winners included Michael Sheen for Frost/Nixon and Pat Shortt for Garage (joint Best Actor winners), Tilda Swinton for Julia (Best Actress, beating out Kate Winslet), Martin McDonagh for In Bruges (Best Screenplay) and Sally Hawkins for Happy Go Lucky (the Peter Sellers Award for Comedy).  Slumdog didn’t go away empty handed though – Mark Digby, the production designer of the film, won the award for Technical Achievement.

Most people (at least outside of the UK) have probably never heard of these awards.  However, according to Wikipedia, it is one of the most important film awards in the United Kingdom (along with the BAFTAs and the British Independent Film Awards).  So is this an indication that we should now have doubts about Slumdog Millionaire taking out the top prize at the Academy Awards?

Not so fast.  If you take a look at this award’s previous Best Picture winners over the last few years, you’ll see that its correlation with the major US awards (eg Oscars, Golden Globes) is very low.  Previous winners such as Control (2007), United 93 (2006), The Constant Gardener (2005), Vera Drake (2004), Touching the Void (2005) (you get the point) have not exactly been Oscar front-runners.  So I think while it’s nice to see some other films getting recognition, Slumdog Millionaire and Danny Boyle should still be favourites at the Academy Awards next month.

Awesome Nadal quotes from Aussie Open Final February 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Tennis.
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Rafael Nadal is the King of the Court and post-match interviews

Rafael Nadal is the King of the Court and post-match interviews

Rafael Nadal proved unequivocally in his 5-set epic over Roger Federer Australian Open Final yesterday that he is the true King of tennis right now (and probably will be for some time to come).

However, he has put so much effort into his tennis that his English doesn’t seem to have improved despite being on tour for almost 6 years now.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the guy – his tenacity on the court is unparalleled and he is one of the most gracious and humble champions ever.  And who cannot love the wedgie pull?  But every time I read a post-match interview I can’t help but laugh.  These days, whenever I talk about tennis I subconsciously start using ‘no?’ at the end of my sentences.  It’s awesome.

Here are some Nadal interview highlights from after the match (courtesy of the official Australian Open website):

Q. Number six Grand Slam. How special is that one for you?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, very special, no, for me. Is a dream win here, one Grand Slam on hard court. I worked very hard the last ‑‑ well, all my life for improve the tennis outside courts, well, outside of clay.

Very happy, no? Very happy for the title. Today was really lot of emotions on court. I was there with the best player I ever saw, like is Roger.

My uncle always told me Rod Laver was the best because he win two times the Grand Slam, the whole Grand Slam, the four in a row, and for like six or seven years he didn’t play. So for that reason he can be.

Everything was very special. Sorry was tough moment for Rog today. I know how tough must be there in important situation from him. But, you know, no, he’s a great champion. He’s the best. And he’s, for sure, very important person for our sport, no?

So sorry for him, but at the same time congratulate him for everything.

*  *  *

Q. Is there an explanation for the second serve where you seemed to have a little trouble?

RAFAEL NADAL: Trouble? For what reason?

Q. It’s softer maybe than usual.


Q. Some double‑faults.

RAFAEL NADAL: Double‑faults? How many?

*  *  *

Q. How does this compare to the first Roland Garros and Wimbledon?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, is different, no? Maybe, well, is the first Grand Slam on hard, so that makes very special. But at the same time, I didn’t have time yet for enjoy the title because I am too tired, no? I went to the locker room and I was dizzy.

So was very happy, but the same time tough, no?

*  *  *

Q. You proved yourself as a true king.

RAFAEL NADAL: Oh, no, no. Well, the true, no. I don’t know. I just win for sure an important title for my careera. But I no better five hours before than now, no? That’s the true, no?

When you win an important match, but you have to know before the match who you are and after the match you have to know who you are, too. You are the same, no?

*  *  *

Strangely, all of that makes sense to me.  Shows you don’t need to have great English to get your point across.  Keep it up Rafa – you are the undisputed King of tennis AND post-match interviews (though Roddick is pretty funny too).

PS: I’m still somewhat annoyed at the media’s portrayal of the Final.  Today, everywhere I look, all I can see on front pages of newspapers are pictures of a weeping Roger Federer.  That’s just terrible.  Not even a single picture of the champion.  That would make both of them feel awful and is just a total disservice to the great game they played yesterday.

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