As a debut author I can say that it was pretty ambitious to have my first series be rooted in so many different “realms”. It started out simple enough, but as I planned the series, put together all the ideas, plots and adventure I realized that three realms I’d originally planned just weren’t enough. So I ended up with seven. Yes, seven realms, and only one of them is our world (the Mortal realm).
But first let me give you an introduction to my series that I am using as an example today. Legendary is a YA fantasy series that picks up where the stories of King Arthur leave off. The story is set in modern times but about half of each book is spent in the seven realms of the Legendary Saga series.
The other six realms are Atlantis, Avalon, Isle of the Blessed, Tir Na Nog, Mt. Olympus and the UnderWorld. One thing I’ve learned from reading so many amazing fantasy novels is this: even if the reader doesn’t see all of these different realms in one book, you still need to build them; so you have a base line if nothing else. With that in mind I spent months putting together my seven realms, and here are some of the key factors:
- Rules- for all seven realms that are the same—acting as roots—across the board. I.e. While the Mortal realm doesn’t have any real magic, and it is the home of humans, none of the other realms could exist without it. It is the foundation that they are built on.
- How and why they existed- what is the purpose of having each realm? How do they enhance and move the plot along and what do they contribute?
- Look- self-explanatory- Pinterest you are my best friend!
- Creatures that lived there- Can the different species and races live in or travel to their realms? If so why and how.
- How they are individually operated/governed- Some have rulers, such as Queen Titania (the Isle), King Oberon (Avalon) and the UnderLord (UnderWorld). Others are lands of pure magic and to enter them, much less live there, you need to have some kind of connection or object that will allow a person/creature to survive there.
One of my biggest saving graces, with building all these complicated realms, is Pinterest. I created boards for each realm. As I saw pictures of places or creatures or people, that reminded me of that particular realm, I could repin them and have an easy references in case I got stuck. Building any world for your book can get very complicated and confusing so I prefer to make my process as simple as possible and Pinterest- along with a “realms binder” are the two ways I do it.
But it is not just setting and look that created your world or realms. It’s the people who live there and who rule it (in my case). Without the characters how can your world have any feeling to it? For example, my Isle of the Blessed is ruled over by Titania, Queen of the Fae: she is a sneaky, manipulative, and cunning ruler who will do anything to be sure she gets the outcome and power she wants. Now, because of whom she is and what she wants, I built the Isle to suit her purposes. Only strong magical races and creatures, and those who have proven themselves true heroes in life, can exist there. And that is because her power is dependent on how strong the beings that reside in the Isle are.
Another element I think is important to world building is the fantasy vs. reality factor. All of my favorite “book worlds” have one thing in common: they are relatable to the real world; they feel like they could really exist. To be honest, there are many things in reality that scare me and I believe, for every world you build to feel believable, you need to have the scariness of reality. It can be a horrific event, war, genocide, sickness or any other element you can think of. The thing to remember is to make it relatable and just believable enough. Look at the worlds of Harry Potter, Game of Thrones or Star Wars, for example.
Nothing is perfect and what works for me may not work for someone else but, no matter how you do it, you WILL run into problems and end up backing yourself into a corner. I have done it a few times—while originally creating them and as I write the 4 books of my series. My best example is this:
When I decided to create the Underworld I found it difficult to explain how the Isle could be a land of forgotten heroes. Shouldn’t all dead heroes be in the Underworld? Answer: Yes, they should.
I spent another two weeks agonizing over how to fix this error without having to go back and change so much of what I had already written and built. My way out of that corner turned out to be the simplest answer: I went back and looked at Titania and the “rules” of the Isle. I found that, since Titania is such a wicked schemer and so power hungry, that her realm is tied, but the barest thread, to the UnderWorld. Because of that she claims all heroes, no matter if they are human, creature or magical being, that have proven themselves worthy of a “blessed afterlife”.
These examples are only a few I’ve ran into, but each one has helped me learn how to create my book worlds so that they are fantastical and wonderful- but still have a feeling of reality to them.
One last thing I’d like to say about world building is that while research is so important, it is just as important—if not more so—that your world is the one you want to crate! Fiction is just that, Fiction. Created from imagination and formed to serve its author’s purposes. The realms I chose to build for Legendary have many different stories and recreations to them, same with the Arthurian legends and characters. I took what I know, and learned about the characters and places and made them my own. So no matter how you do that—changing the spelling of a well know character’s name or a place, change things you may not have liked about Avalon or the King Arthur stories—make sure you are staying true to the world and story YOU want to build and tell us about.
L.H. Nicole is a seasoned Pastry Chef in our nation’s capital and a lifelong fairytale (Disney and Grimm) lover, believes in love at first sight, is addicted to 80’s & 90’s cartoons and anything that can capture her ADD-way-to-overactive-imagination. Joan Lowery Nixon and L.J. Smith were the first authors she became addicted to and who inspired her to steal away whenever she could to read and write.
Aliana Fagan spent her childhood traveling the world, dreaming of legendary heroes and mythical lands. But after the sudden death of her parents, she hides behind the safety of her camera and her art until a vivid recurring dream compels her to dig into her father’s research about Avalon and Camelot. When she is hurled into a magical realm by forces she thought were only the stuff of fairy tales, she finds herself thrown into an adventure she could never have imagined. Nearly everything she thought she knew about Arthurian legend was wrong.
The independent eighteen-year-old is shocked to find that the people of Avalon think that she is the Destined One, the only person who can summon King Arthur back to life from his hidden chamber. Most surprising of all is that it’s up to her to lead the Knights of the Round Table on an epic quest—an adventure that will transport them across the seven magic realms to reclaim all that has been lost so they can defeat the evil Mordrid for good. But first, she must bring the ancient warriors into her world and reunite them with their lost brothers. Chaperoning the legendary knights-with-a-chivalry-complex as they navigate the modern world is a constant challenge, and she certainly never thought she’d be caught between her intense feelings for the noble Sir Galahad and her growing friendship with the King.
To fulfill the prophecy, Aliana will have to discover the meaning of friendship, bravery, loyalty, true love, and forgiveness. But can she do it all in time to save the realms from Mordrid’s impending Armageddon?