Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The ring of authenticity

I write fantasy romances. That's a minor sub-genre in the vast romance category. There are a few people who believe that fantasy is the least difficult of all writing. After all, you make everything up...right? So your characters can do anything you want them to. Your world can be anything you want. How tough can that be?

I suppose it depends on whether you want the reader to be able to suspend belief or not. That's the ability to become so involved in the story that you "suspend" your belief in reality for the duration of the story. And that my friends requires some heavy duty world building.

I was recently interviewed for an e-zine (electronic magazine) and some of the questions were about the world building in my Mystic Valley series. How did you decide this? Why did you decide that? Those are the answers you come up with before you start writing a fantasy.

Decisions range from clothing and character appearance to culture, government, and monetary systems. What type of housing and furnishings are there? What type of occupations? What do they eat? How sophisticated are the sanitary arrangements? How do they get around?

And how does the author keep track of the details? Every fantasy writer has some type of system to keep track of decisions they've made along the way as they write. Sometimes you hit a point in the story where you have to stop and consider what long range consequences the action will have on the world you've spent so much time building. Then you have to go back through your notes. How will this change what you said back in book one?

The bigger the cast of characters you have, the more details there are to keep track of. My primary family in Mystic Valley, the Llewellyns, have sixteen children, each unique and special in their own way. In the early books, the younger children have cameo spots where they walk onto the stage briefly, but eventually all of them will take center stage, so every single one has to be thought out carefully.

There are villagers, out-valley people, in-laws, out-laws and what I call the incidental people that walk on and off the stage for one short scene. Readers are sharp-eyed. If you use the name Bob for that incidental person in book one, they'll notice if you use Bob in book three--especially if Bob has a different occupation in book three.

What about climate? Does it snow? Rain? Is it hot in the summer?

What about holidays? Religions? Education? All of those have to be accounted for one way or the other. Plants and animals have to be considered. Will the author use familiar animals from earth or will they make new ones up. What will the plants be like?

I had a wonderful time inventing the world of Mystic Valley. I hope you'll have a wonderful time discovering it, too. Just to give you a little taste, I've posted a bit from Dancer's Delight. Enjoy!

The path that led to the village wandered through a new section of woods. Immediately, Dancer knew that he was in a fantasy forest. As they walked along the trail, he took note of the plants, both familiar and strange. Unlike the last stand of trees he’d encountered, most of these were very strange, indeed. There were huge trees with odd dark blue leaves. One lonely tree had smooth, glittery black bark. Back from the path, he saw a pair of trees with orange bark and triangular purple leaves. Occasionally, he spotted pine-like trees with shiny red needles. The undergrowth was a multi-colored riot of prolifically flowering shrubs and a bright blue runner vine. Suddenly, without warning, the path took a sharp jog to the right and they stood at the edge of a thriving village unlike anything he had ever seen.

Circular adobe cottages with smooth, domed adobe roofs were arranged in concentric circles around a cluster of larger square stone buildings. The cottages ranged from small, one circle buildings to a very large compound of multiple joined buildings. Without hesitation, Eppie headed for the compound. Following on her heels, he observed as much as he could, noting the neat yards and gardens enclosed with low stone walls. Some had blue or green birds similar to chickens pecking at the dirt. In a couple of yards, enormous long-haired creatures that vaguely resembled dogs, silently eyed them as they walked by.

On the front steps of the compound, two huge cat-like animals were curled up, sleeping in the sun. The long-haired orange one’s ears twitched as they went by and it opened one green eye before settling back into slumber. The chocolate and cream animal opened both eyes, yawned mightily, revealing a mouth full of sharp teeth and stretched before curling back up and snoring lightly. “Those are Tyger and Llyon’s packits,” Eppie commented briefly before opening the door and entering the cool darkness of a wide foyer.

Dancer merely nodded and followed her inside, completely resigned to the odd and amazing. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the shadowy hallway, but when they did, he observed a entryway like he had never imagined. A huge exquisite woven tapestry covered the wall on the left. The deep jewel colors shone vividly, even in the dimness. On the right, three unframed landscapes were arranged above a long narrow carved table. There were no artist names on the paintings, but it was obvious the same individual—in a style reminiscent of Goya—had painted them all. Bold bright colors portrayed life in the valley. The table below them had elaborately carved legs and skirt. When he bent over to study it, he saw the carvings were leaves and flowers.

Eppie barely paused before leading him into a larger room with an empty fireplace and a large varied collection of chairs. Standing in the doorway, he stared around in amazement. Every chair was occupied. Near the center of the room, he picked out two people he thought must be her parents. After focusing for a moment, he realized the rest were probably her siblings… and there were a lot of them. Every single male, from the youngest through the eldest, was dressed in the skirt-like garments. Some had on loose over-wrapped shirts, but most were bare-chested. And all of them had their hair neatly arranged in the narrow braids ending with the tiny jeweled clasps.

The man in the center stood and came forward, offering his hand in a gesture that was the first familiar thing Dancer had encountered. They shook hands as the man said, “Welcome. I’m Merlyn, that’s my wife Jade,” he nodded toward a very youthful looking red-head, “and the rest are our children, who I won’t overwhelm you further by introducing.”

“I appreciate that,” Dancer replied dryly.

“Come in and rest,” Jade invited with a lovely smile. “Arturo, please bring tea and wafers. The rest of you may satisfy your curiosity later. I’m sure you all have someplace to be. If not, I’ll be happy to find something for you to do.” In seconds, the room echoed with emptiness as they quietly vanished.

Unable to help himself, Dancer began to laugh. “I’ve never seen a room empty so fast.”

Want to read more? Go to http://www.cerridwenpress.com/productpage.asp?ISBN=9781419909566 to check out Dancer's Delight.


Don't forget to stop at Amarinda's blog to check out what she's done with Louella, Sam and Jonas...and Emmeline at www.amarindajones.blogspot.com and then pop over to Kelly's blog where she's interviewing one of her characters, Sir Marcus, at www.kkirch.blogspot.com


  1. tsk tsk. Marcus is a Lord, dear, not a mere Sir.

    I adore Mystic Valley. You world build very well and I did find myself wondering how you thought of certain things. So creative. Dancer's Delight and Traveller's Refuge are must reads. As will be Bishop's story. Can't wait. I'm a fan.

  2. I always wonder where fantasy writers get the inspiration for their characters! In my fictional university, I have a chronilogical chart posted where I can see it (that way I know if I need to change a scene); I have lists of character descriptions; their family backgrounds; boys I've already 'introduced'...it goes on. But it's fun to bring your town/setting/families to life and see where they take you:)

  3. I, as you know, loved Dancer's Delight and I am amazed at how you keep all the characters straight. There are times when I stare at the screen mid book and think - what is the name of this character again?

  4. I'm with you AJ. No board, no planning, no list. In fact, my first draft has comment boxes along the side with things like, "Kelly, go back and see if you've named the butler. Don't think you did, but make sure." Etc.

    If I'm very good, I will create a chapter outline after the chapter is written with the names of the people I've introduced. I've done this successfully once. The other time, I'd be three chapters gone and realize I'd forgotten to update the outline.

  5. I just keep a running roster of characters. When I add a new one I check the roster to make sure I haven't used the name/occupation already!

  6. I just fly my the seat of my pants - no names or lists or clue...just like life