Today I have the awesome pleasure of sharing Jacqueline Patterson’s advice on how to make your fantasy story world in your writing REAL.
I will never forget the first time a book transported me into an alternative world. I was no longer a child reading in an abandoned field, but instead I was battling monsters in an icy land. Aware of the creatures’ hot breath on my neck. Fingers frozen to the hilt of the sword,I had slipped through reality by the turn of a page.
How can we recreate this magic in our stories?
- Research, research, research! So many writers make the mistake of writing fantasy and alternative-world stories simply because they don’t “have” to research, or at least not the way they would for a real-life story.
If anything, your research workload has doubled. We all know the basics of the real world: how gravity works, how to find transport, where we can find food. In fantasy, everything is up for debate.
If your fantasy is medieval-themed, research the Dark Ages. How did knights move in their armor? For that fact, how did they mount their horses when encased in that metal monstrosity? Readers are smarter than we give them credit for. They may make excuses for your first few mistakes, but once your knight jumps off his horse and starts running in pursuit of a foe while locked in his suit of armor, the book will become a comedy. Or, worse, the reader may simply lay it down.
Respect your readers. Research.
- Set boundaries. What is not possible in your world? If your fantasy is set in the tropics, there better be a darned good reason if penguins are hanging around. Decide what doesn’t fit in the world of your story and then begin building within that structure.
- Borrow from history. In love with a specific era? Be bold. Change it up and set it in an alternative world. Basing characters on historical figures can also help you create intricate, fascinating characters. Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly, gleaned the idea for his TV series from reading Civil War novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. George R. R. Martin drew from the English War of the Roses to create the complex world and characters of his bestselling Game of Thrones.
Take advantage of what has been forgotten.
- View the world through the protagonist’s eyes. What smells and senses are common in their world? Remember, their perspective differs with their station. Are they peasants who make their home in a muddy hut? Serfs who spend their days sweating in the fields? A prince who spends his days in the cold glamor of a castle? Again, glean from history and research until their world is solid and real.
- Break past the clichés. Don’t settle for overused plots— and you certainly cannot borrow ideas from other novels. Inspiration is one thing, but plot-and-setting-robbery will destroy a writer’s credibility and, eventually, their career. Be strong and create your own story. Probe beyond the surface. Let your story be yours alone.
- Be consistent. However you establish the rules, they must remain constant. Break them only for impact— i.e., a girl who wants to become a knight in a culture where women cannot be warriors. Let it be the exception, not inconsistency.
- Most importantly, have fun! This is your world and I applaud you for taking this step of creation. Make this story a living, breathing adventure your readers will never forget.
Dragon tamer. Ancient Rome fanatic. Writer living on the edge of fictional worlds. J. A. Patterson attempted to teach herself to read at the age of four, wrote her first book (featuring eerily violent chickens) at age five, and has been immersed in books ever since.
When she isn’t writing, you can find her studying music, reading, and searching for portals to new fantasy worlds.