Hey there, dear heart!
If you’re a longtime follower, you may know that I’m OBSESSED with a good storyworld. After a good binge read, cuddled up in bed, with the lamp freshly out and my fan humming gently… there’s nothing I’d rather do when falling asleep than dream of a fantastical place, where my fictional besties are hanging out.
The AMAZING Jenelle Schmidt, author of The Minstrel’s Song series, is hosting her fifth annual February is Fantasy Month blogathon — and this year, the theme is WORLDBUILDING + FANTASY CREATURES. Um, what better time to talk about storyworlds, am I right?!
Here are some of my favorite storyworld elements.
(but not globs of it!)
Please don’t tell me about every king who’s gone before and the pilgrims who first founded your fair city, but PLEASE OH PLEASE do tell me about the vow a peasant girl took seven decades ago that one day, she would have a granddaughter who would become queen, and that granddaughter is YOU. History is best served when it directly affects the characters.
I think an awesome example of this (no spoilers) is the Mauraders in Harry Potter! They create a balance, a bond between the past and the present.
History enriches storyworlds, but ESPECIALLY when it has returned to haunt the story’s characters.
(piles & piles of it!)
I’M A FOODIE. (A vegan foodie, to be precise, but that doesn’t quite matter here.) Food reveals a LOT about a culture: Why do they eat that — do they like it that much, or do they have tools exactly for that thing? Why don’t they eat that — is it sacred, or poison?
Plus: flaky biscuit crumbs, vanilla cream and cinnamon atop baked pumpkin, blackberry pie adorned with lavender… who DOESN’T love those mouth-watering descriptions?
(I’m considering a blog post on books that NEED to be sold with food because their descriptions are so drool-inducing. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes would 10/10 be high on that list.)
3. Flora & Fauna
(+ which plants & critters are domesticated)
If I’m going to be specific, I LIKE TREES. I also like unicorns, dragons, griffins, pegasi, magical deer, bears, owls, wolves, and– the list goes on. 😉
I firmly believe that flora and fauna are VITAL to a storyworld’s immersive success. For example, The Companions Quartet series by Julia Golding. (SO GOOD, oh my word.) Together, plants and animals reveal how a character interacts with their world. Do characters keep plants in their homes? Are certain animals untouchable, or domesticated?
4. Weather & the Seasons
(opinion: there’s no such thing as too many thunderstorms)
Weather = another great way a character can interact with their world! Call me the young, brooding, Victorian author who lives in that gothic mansion in the middle of a valley and has no company beyond her softspoken servants for miles and miles, BUT, I will never say no to a good rain/thunderstorm. Or fog… fog is good; it feels like the earth’s breath…
ALSO, the changing of the seasons is a great opportunity to show off your character’s personality and mental state! Are they the sort of person to feel dreary in the winter, or the summer? Are they happiest during autumn, or spring?
Exhibit: A Wish Made of Glass by Ashlee Willis.
(but not so complicated that I wish I had a political science degree)
Something not a ton of people know about me: I adore politics (but I also hate them — talking politcs is a guilty pleasure I’m trying to cut down on). But my favorite types of politics are the politics in FANTASY BOOKS.
Seeing beyond mere arranged marriages: staring, instead, more deeply, at social/economic issues that have their own pros and cons. When fictional leaders can’t agree because they feel that pro/con outweighs con/pro. When alliances have to be forged because “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
I LOVE THAT STUFF. I never realized how much until I read Mark of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse. 🤫
6. The Ocean
(& it’s a moody one)
Water is a lifesource, so I’m all about seeing water in storyworlds, from rivers to creeks, from lakes to ponds and bays. But the body of water I’ll forever be in love with in fantasy is the ocean. While it all ties back to weather and the seasons and how a character interacts with her world, I feel like the ocean is another great opportunity to showcase the character’s relationship with her world.
An old favorite is Heartless by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, where the ocean isn’t ALWAYS present, but fey folk come to reveal its meaning.
Honestly, I could go ON AND ON. Worldbuilding is one of my favorite aspects of being a YA fantasy writer. I still want to talk about sleep, productivity, mental health, daily rituals, and religion! But alas, I think that’s a post for another day. Who knows? Maybe I ought to write a Part 2. 😉
Be sure to check out Jenelle’s February is Fantasy Month giveaway! There are 15 EPIC fantasy prizes up for grabs and you won’t want to miss them! 😍
what are some of YOUR favorite elements to see in a fantasy storyworld? (or in a book’s setting, in general?)