HOW TO WRITE A GOOD FANTASY NOVEL: TEN TOP TIPS FOR WORLD-BUILDING/RESEARCHING :By Damien Black

Damien Black

You might be forgiven for thinking that fantasy authors get to make everything up. In actual fact, that is only true to some extent, and if you are going to create a parallel universe with similarities to a real historical period, it pays to do your research! In this article I suggest ten ways you can make your world-building and storytelling stand out from all the others.

TOP TEN TIPS FOR WORLD BUILDING/RESEARCHING AT A GLANCE

  1. GET HISTORICAL
  2. GET DYNASTICAL
  3. GET RELIGION
  4. GET BATTLE-READY
  5. GET GEEKY
  6. GET LITERATE
  7. GET PLOTTING
  8. GET PERSONAL
  9. GET POETIC
  10. GET CRACKING

 

  1. GET HISTORICAL

There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in a world with a background, like George RR Martin’s Westeros or JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. So start by creating a few myths and legends, things that happened in your characters’ world that they look back to. I found it helped me enormously to draw up a timeline, in my case spanning five thousand years since a cataclysmic event called the Breaking of the World. It’s fully interactive, so I’m still updating it with fictional historical events as I go along, and many of these will have a bearing on the plot and characters of the Broken Stone Chronicle. Tolkien’s appendices in LOTR is a good place to start if you’re looking for inspiration.
WSR ebook cover

  1. GET DYNASTICAL

Who doesn’t love a bit of drama about rich and powerful houses duking it out to see who wins the game of thrones? It certainly worked for George RR Martin. What I did was to design genealogies for all the most influential houses in the Broken Stone Chronicle: the House of Ingwin that rules in Northalde, the House of Ambelin in Pangonia, and the House of Markward in Dulsinor for example. I’m still adding to these as I go along, and I include courtiers and retainers too – this will give you a plethora of support characters to draw on at will, adding richness and variety to your scene-setting when you come to write those tense court stand-offs.

  1. GET RELIGION

This is often a touchy subject with fantasy fans, as many are atheists. However, if you are writing about a world where magic exists, there will inevitably be superstition. So do your research. I chose to base the religious beliefs of the Broken Stone Chronicle on a mixture of Judeo-Christian lore and Norse mythology, with a smattering of Hinduism for good measure. What you decide to channel is up to you. Just bear in mind that even when inventing your own pantheon of deities, you will inevitably be influenced by the beliefs and practices of your own world, so keep an open mind!

  1. GET BATTLE-READY

Watching documentaries and movies about real-life wars helped me to write my own battle scenes. The good old internet is also a huge help – there is a plethora of articles out there about siege warfare and the like. Because if you are going to write in a quasi-medieval world, you need to be prepared for readers who will have read that period and really know their stuff. I studied the Crusades and found this really enriched my understanding of medieval warfare, with its vanguards, sappers, trebuchets, belfries and Greek fire. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Get researching and you soon will!

  1. GET GEEKY

Role-playing games helped me with all of the above. Usually, you’ll find that authors of 1980s game books and RPGs really knew their stuff – often putting the so-called real fantasy authors to shame in this respect. Mine that knowledge: a lot of the old RPG lore can now be found on the internet.

  1. GET LITERATE

In other words, keep reading and read widely. I know, sounds like a statement of the bleeding obvious right? But I’m astonished at how many traditionally published fantasy books I read without reaching for the dictionary once. Yes, you have to be careful – you don’t want to scare readers off with an abundance of words they don’t know! But nothing is more rewarding than enjoying a good read that also bolsters your vocabulary. Literate readers will appreciate this – and bear in mind that roughly two-thirds of fantasy fans are college educated. Your fans are no fools – don’t treat them as such.

  1. GET PLOTTING

Don’t be afraid to use other genres to help you in this respect. Remember how powerful Scott Lynch’s debut The Lies of Locke Lamora was for tapping into crime fiction? I used a bit of Sherlock Holmes in Devil’s Night Dawning, when I had the protagonists, Adelko and Horskram, figuring out who was behind the theft of the broken stone and trying to have them killed before they could warn anyone. It gave my novel the feel of a thriller at times, and a nod to other genres is always a good thing in my opinion: especially nowadays with jaded readers looking for something a bit different.

  1. GET PERSONAL

Make sure you have a fully fledged background for all your major characters. It doesn’t have to be down to the Nth degree, like what their favorite color is (although you can do this if you like!), but something about key events that happened during their formative years and earlier life. In my case I intersected this with my timeline (see tip 1): Horskram was involved in a calamitous event called the Purge twenty years before the story begins, and this has an enormous impact on his decision-making and attitude during the saga. It isn’t immediately apparent, but it becomes more so as the story progresses: again, this level of detail will enrich your story, making it more believable and engaging.

  1. GET POETIC
    Verse and song are often under-represented in fantasy nowadays, and to my mind, this is a great pity. Medieval peoples celebrated their history in poetry and song and throwing a few lyrics in here and there will help enrich your milieu. Would A Song Of Ice And Fire be quite the same without The Tale of the Bear and the Maiden Fair? You can be quite clever about how you do this: I worked in some verses that were crucial to the plot of Devil’s Night Dawning when the heroes encounter Fays who gift them with a prophecy spoken in rhyming couplets. At other times I’ve simply done it to build atmosphere; again it’s really up to you, but I think when used sparingly poetry can really augment your saga.
    Devil's Night Dawning
  2. GET CRACKING
    Well, you’ve got a bundle of ideas to pursue here, so what are you waiting for? Get out there and start looking up your favorite historical periods, personages, poets, and authors… And if you gravitate towards these, you should have so much fun you won’t even notice you’re researching!

 

For as long as he can remember, Damien Black has been blessed and cursed with a hallucinogenic imagination. His sleep is disturbed by strange dreams that he struggles to remember upon waking, glimpses of worlds where superstitions are reality and prayers might actually work.

The only cure he knows for this malady is writing. Over the years, these scribbling’s have evolved into horror-strewn tales of fantasy fiction.

 

http://damienblackwords.com/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01J5WHFVU

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https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31279738-devil-s-night-dawning?from_search=true

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