Building Fantasy Worlds – from the Experts

In the last blog post I wrote about my own world-building efforts for my fantasy novel. In this post, I want to share some insights from the experts and masters of the fantasy craft. These are experts according to my taste. Some of you may disagree, but I believe their success speaks for itself.

Set in Roshar a land of stone and storms.

Let’s begin with Brandon Sanderson. I recently discovered his books. I know, I’ve been living under a fantasy rock. I don’t know how I haven’t read anything by him before, but I came across a discounted copy of Skyward and it motivated me to try another. I loved the fully developed and unique world of Skyward with its underground caves and the debris belt surrounding the planet.

I was even more intrigued by the world of The Way of Kings first book in The Stormlight Chronicles. For those who’ve never read it, here’s a quick run-down from the initial paragraph of the back cover.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

The fact that this is the first thing Sanderson mentions shows how important it is. The land itself is a powerful character in the novel. It affects and influences other characters and events, forcing them to make discoveries and decisions as they interact with it just as interactions (conflicts) with living, breathing characters bring change. Set in a different location, The Way of Kings wouldn’t be the same novel, even if it were populated with the same living characters.

Leigh Bardugo has created a similarly intriguing and critical world in her Grishaverse which begins with the Shadow and Bone trilogy and continues with two duologies. Here Bardugo has mixed science and magic in a well-imagined world based on modern-day Amsterdam and surrounding areas.

First novel in the Grishaverse, a unique blend of science and magic in Leigh Bardugo’s imaginative world

Bardugo uses the setting as both an ally and enemy for the characters. They must adapt to their environment or else, adapt their environment to their own purposes. Both happen over the course of these novels. The magical systems developed in the Grishaverse are complex and intriguing. Their unique qualities determine the flow of the stories. Nothing feels patched together or unexplainable. (Not that everything is explained, just that as a reader, it feels as if it could be.)

To my writer’s mind, that is the mark of a gifted author–to bring the reader into a place that only exists within the author’s mind, with characters using magic never before seen or read about, and have the reader buy into that enough to be able to discuss it with fellow readers as if it were all real and possible.

Thanks for reading! What types of world-building do you find most fascinating: using real worlds or imagined ones? What makes the best setting for a fantasy novel? Let me know your thoughts, I’d love to connect with you!

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Thanks to Marcus Byrne on Unsplash for the featured photo.