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Monday, April 8, 2013

Building a Fantasy World

by Sarah 

I'm mostly-kind-of-almost finished with VALIANT, a YA retelling of a The Brave Little Tailor. For the past year, I've been living in– and creating!– a fantasy world that I hope readers will want to enter. I want it to be so real, so vivid, that someone will feel homesick once the story's finished. 

I'm still learning this worldbuilding thing, but I did gather a few tools along the way. There are tons of websites with worksheets that help you expand your world's culture(s). (Google 'worldbuilding.') However, I found I needed the most help with naming and visualizing my world. So I'd to share what I used for: 


Character names
See Kristen's excellent post! (Or ask Craig. I wrote a few weeks before giving my MC a name– and it was finally Craig who suggested Saville.) 

Place Names
Wikipedia is your friend! It wasn't until I'd gotten through most of the story that I realized the river in VALIANT felt like the Krivija, a river I loved in Bosnia. But I also based the river on the Danube. So I looked up the Danube in Wikipedia. The article provided a ton of place names that I could adjust and use. I can't tell you how many times I've sifted through Wikipedia for place– or character– names. 

The process reminds me of looking through a thesaurus. You may not know what you're looking for, but you'll know it when you see it. 

Fantasy Language 
VALIANT needed a few words in the giants' language. I felt completely overwhelmed until I found Definitions. I'd type in a word like 'little' or 'traitor,' click 'Translations' on the right, and then see the word translated into about twenty different languages. (I LOVE this website!) Often, I'd find a word that sounded almost right. Then I'd play with sounds and syllables it was just what it should be. 

A word of caution: be sure to keep the sound or feel similar. You probably wouldn't want to claim that Hindi and German-sounding words come from the same language. 



Music
It isn't easy finding a playlist for a fantasy. But never fear! Use Pandora. For those of you who aren't familiar with the website, you can create a station by suggesting songs that you like and then rating songs that the website plays. It takes a little time, but it's worth it. And it has access to movie soundtracks, which was perfect. After a little tweaking I created a station of soundtracks and composers that matched the feel of VALIANT. (It's a combo of Lord of the Rings, Last of the Mohicans, Gladiator, Braveheart, etc...)


Rambling ahead:

May I add that while I don't daydream about Oprah mentioning my book, I DO fantasize about Peter Jackson making it into a film? Two reasons: 1) He'd film it in New Zealand, and I'd have to visit at least once to squeal over the sets, and 2) I want to hear what Howard Shore would do with the giants' songs. I don't know how they sound– just how they make the listeners feel. But I bet Shore could figure that out.... 

Annnnd... back to our regularly scheduled programing:


Faces
After a while, I needed faces for my main characters. I knew roughly what they looked like, but I wanted pictures. And I knew Lord Verras did NOT resemble any member of One Direction. I needed more than a Google Image search. So I went to London's National Gallery website and searched the paintings by century. It was like searching a crowd for a friend's face. 

I thought about sharing the portraits here, but I don't think they'd work. For me, the search was as much about the emotion in the portrait as the face itself. Still, I discovered such interesting things about my people! For instance, I knew one character was chubby but I didn't know he was swarthy until I saw his portrait. 


I know there are a million other resources out there. I'd love to hear from you: What have you used as you write fantasy? 

12 comments:

  1. Wow! This is amazingly helpful. I am also writing a fantasy but not based on Celtic mythology. I have done many of the suggestions you have written about, Sarah, but not all. So thanks for adding more resources to my Tool Box. Can't wait to read your book so keep me updated.

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    1. So glad this helped, Linda! It was fun for me to look back at the resources I discovered along the way.

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  2. This is great stuff Sarah! I am so happy I will not see any member of ONE DIRECTION in your book. I do hope that Taylor Swift plays Saville. ;)

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    1. Ah Taylor.... Wasn't she dating one of the One Direction boys for a while?

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  3. Great post, Sarah! I liked your suggestions,very helpful, and plan on using them today. Another great source for creating a new world are Archaeological blogs and websites. You can find out a lot of information about past cultures to use in a real or fantasy world.

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    1. Funny you should mention that, Ellen! I was trying to figure out the plants around a certain part of the Danube (the Iron Gate- how awesome does that sound?) and the best info was on an archeology site.

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    2. Great resources and thoughts... relevant for contemporary world-building too!

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  4. Wonderful post! I so needed to know about Definitions. I'm always trying to make up words for other languages!!

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    1. I LOVE Definitions! Even if you change a word you find there, it still casts a shadow: there's a sense of history and past meaning in it.

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  5. Sarah, this is great info! Even if you're not a fantasy writer, you can use these tips for building the world of whatever story you're writing. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'm so glad you liked it Marilyn! There are some terrific resources out there!

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