BookCon was online this year, and one of the panels they had was ‘The Magic of World Building’. Sabaa Tahir, Ransom Riggs, Naomi Novik, and Dhonielle Clayton gathered on Zoom to share their writing experience when it came to world building. Writing advice on building your fantasy worlds from some of the best authors?? Yes, yes, 1,000 times yes!
Here is a quick bio on the authors that took part part in this discussion.
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Ransom Riggs – Author of the Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series
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One of the best parts about fantasy is the creative worlds we can live in. While we are inside our homes more than usual, reading fantasy is a form of escape. These authors share their experiences with creating fantasy worlds and give advice to writers who are trying to build their own worlds. Aspiring fantasy writers, listen up, because this advice is magical.
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Would you survive in your own world?
Sabaa answered that no, she would not survive in the world she created. The world in the ‘An Ember in the Ashes’ series is a very harsh one. Ruled by the empire and the oppressed group of the scholars, it is a tough world to want to be in. Sabaa remarks that some of her fans think her answer is to be a part of the scholars if she lived in her own world, but she clarifies that she is an oppressed group in the real world and she would want to be in the empire class instead.
Ransom replied that he would yes, definitely like to live in his world. While his world can be overrun by evil monsters, there is a lot of brilliant characters that he would like to be friends with.
Naomi answered, ‘I just wrote a book that I would never survive in.’
How much of your world did you know before you started writing?
Sabaa replied by saying that she writes her books by fleshing out her characters. As she wrote about her characters in different scenarios she starts to see the world more clearly. As she went on writing, the more she could carve out her world, the magic system, and how it interacts with her characters. A bit of advice that she would give writers is that if she could go back she would be a little more specific about some details to make the world more fleshed out.
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How do you create your worlds? What is your ‘secret sauce’? How do you start to create your world?
Naomi was first to answer by saying that when she creates worlds, it starts with her writing. it starts with a moment that she doesn’t quite understand in her head until she writes it down on paper and lets the scene unfold. She asks herself “why does the character feel this way?” and builds from that narrow place and then builds on top of that. This is where her world starts to form and where she starts to see the specifics. Basically write, write, and write some more, until your world starts to come to life
Sabaa answered that she organizes her thoughts and ideas, creating a story board.
Ransom replied that he looks at his characters and their world and sees the ‘what ifs.’ while some may look at these ‘what ifs’ as obstacles to the overall story arc, he looks at them as opportunities for his world to grow.
one thing that they agreed on is not to box yourselves in; to create your magic with constraints but leave it loose so you can build on it.
Do you believe in such thing as an original world? When you sit down to create do you think about originality?
Sabaa shared that originality comes from the creator and their point of view. The world isn’t the most important part of the story, but the characters, their stories, who they are, and what they go through.
Naomi agreed by adding If it’s too familiar you are just taking a walk around the block, make it a journey but have your world be tangible through your characters. She often wants to travel, so through her writing she goes to places that she can’t go to, places that don’t exist anymore, and places that can never be. She wants to go on the journey as a writer, which is something she also looks for as a reader. Originality isn’t the goal, but something that comes from you, something deep that comes from your own voice.
Naomi’s advice to new writers was this : “you have to focus on the things that you are excited by and not writing patterns that you have picked up but writing with your own voices.” Sometimes we echo what we read and love, but the trick is finding your own voice and letting the world hear it.
Ransom added that he is reminded of the things that he loves but it comes out in his writing in a fresh and new way. “This is easier said than done” he remarks, you have to make it just different enough that it is original but not so different that it is unfamiliar that the reader can’t focus on it.
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As authors, do we have a responsibility to put what is happening in our world in our fantasy worlds?
Sabaa replied saying that she feels like she doesn’t have a choice. She writes from experience, the experience from her people, people who are South Asian, who are Muslim, She shares the story of herself, her family, and people like her and what they have uniquely dealt with. Whether its war, cultural beliefs, or genocide, she shares her family history. She doesn’t have a choice because her very existence, like many other oppressed peoples, is a political thing. To live life, to be successful, to share the stories of their lives is in itself is a political act because society wants to silence their experiences.
Naomi added that as a writer you need to be honest, therefore you have the responsibility as a writer to tell the truth
What happens when you have to many things in your world? How do you decide what stays and what goes?
Ransom was first to reply saying, go light and layer in more.
Sabaa agreed by adding, start with the bare bones and then add in what you need. If you have too much, ask yourself “what is essential to the goal of the character?” If it doesn’t add to a character and their development you need to get rid of it.
Naomi said to play with your characters and see if it is something that contributes to your story. the scene, character, information needs to connect to another point therefore you need to prune out if it is standing in isolation. it is important to maintain your flexibility.
uprooted fanart by Alicia Alcántara
What other world would you like to live in?
Naomi answered first by saying that she would live in the shire. I mean who wouldn’t want to live in a world with a second breakfast?!
Dhonielle replied by saying that she would want to live in the world that George R.R Martin has made, but that she would not survive in it so she would like to visit and then come back home.
Sabaa shared that she would like to live in the world of Star Trek. To go on a ship and explore the stars. “It is also a diverse place that would feel a lot like being in the bay area.” she added with a laugh.
I don’t know about you, but I am inspired by these amazing authors. Excuse me while I start writing a new world to explore!