The joy of writing and building worlds…


The joy of writing is the act of creation.

A whole fantasy world made manifest – turning blank pages into battles of character, plot and the subtleties of prose.

But for me, the joy of writing is not merely the act of creating a story which engages and enthralls its readers but in creating a world I can immerse myself in. World building is a skill and one of the many challenges that fantasy and sci-fi writers face when weaving their tales. When done correctly, it compliments the story giving depth and gravitas to ground the fantasy. When done poorly, it smothers the story – turning it into an incidental neighbour you forgot to invite to the party, or worst still, jars with the story due to its utter lack of realism.file3121313815879[1]

The temptation for all writers who world build, is simply that it becomes SO enjoyable to construct your worlds, that you can get easily seduced by your own cleverness – by the intricacies of cultures, the development of language, the botany and animal life, geology, geography and rich histories of your creations. Now that’s fine, if you intend being the only reader of your novel. But, if you’re looking for a readership of more than one, you have to curtail your inner nerd…just a little!

I speak from experience here. Being a teacher of phonetics among other things, I love linguistics and the construction of language. As a result, between my love of phonics and etymology, I have constructed a working language for my characters – ancient Dworllish complete with a basic 24 character Dworllian alphabet based on Maori, Old English, Old Norse and African Bantu dialects! Yes…I did mention nerd, didn’t I?

So, did I include this language and all its nuisances in my book? No. Elements, occasional references and words, but that’s all. I want my novel to have as wide an appeal as possible and readers, even language loving nerds like me, simply don’t need all that information and certainly the story doesn’t.file0001006582285[1]

Okay, so you’ve curtailed your inner geek and taken out those character genealogies you were working on, but what makes a world work? If your novel is a fantasy, whether it be urban, steam punk, classic, high, crossover, contemporary or gothic, do you need to make your world real? HELL YES! No matter how fantastical your creations are, if they are not grounded in realism it makes it damn hard for the reader to connect or care about them.

Think of basic scientific laws, gravity, light speed, evolution etc, of course to bring the magic in, you’ll need to break or subvert these laws but you’ll need to bring realism in somewhere else. This for me, is my next joy…research, research, research!file000816536459[1]

SO much fun it should be illegal! If you’re writing about histories, cultures, mountains, desserts, jungles – research. Let me say that again…RESEARCH! (my nerdy self revels in this)

Even if you only use a fraction of your research in your novel, it will give an integrity and depth of realism to your world that you won’t be able to replicate without. But again, don’t overload it, use sparingly.

For White Mountain and the world behind The Darkling Chronicles, my research runs into three or four large box files and a plethora of books. Ancient history – particularly Sumeria, the Hittites and the Indus Valley civilisation. Indigenous people – like the Chukchi, Nenets, Khanty and Evenki of Russia and the Siberian tundra. The geography and geology of the real locations my characters travel to. Botany and wildlife etc etc. Make it REAL!

Kallorm ‘City of Light’, my subterranean metropolis beneath the Congolese jungles, in central Africa, feels real because so many things around it ARE real, from the colour of the earth in that region to the sapele and iroko trees that grow there. For my Fendellin ‘Kingdom of Dragons’, a lost realm amongst the Himalayas, I based on Tibetan Buddhist myths and Indian folklore about Shambhala – the same legend that inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and his Shangri-La.

Oh…and any places you travel to, use them for inspiration too. The landscapes of Dartmoor and New Zealand have been particularly rich for me.

So, you’ve done your research, built your world, made it real but not overpowered or forgotten your story (remember – story and characters take gold & silver, setting – bronze), then you are on your way!

Ah…the joy of writing and building worlds… 😀

For some useful advice on the subject, check out Fantasy Faction and their post ‘Why World Build?’


18 thoughts on “The joy of writing and building worlds…

  1. Thanks, Lisa, very kind of you sweetie! 😀 xx

  2. tricia says:

    Well said, Sophie. There is some great advice here for fantasy writers. This article should be a required read for all world-builders out there!

    • Wow, thank you, Tricia! That’s very generous coming from a great world-builder such of yourself! I think ultimately, as in all things in life, there is always a balance to strike between a detailed realistic fantasy world that compliments and enriches your story and one which usurps and swallows it whole! ;D

  3. Great article, Sophie. Your love for linguistics, ancient history and legends sparked your imagination in a big way. This makes it a pleasure for readers to step into the rich landscapes you created.
    I made a map for my story early on and kept it close while writing, to orientate myself, to judge distances, to establish were the sun rose and set. Even so my landscapes are mythical, I referred to temperatures, plants and minerals in locations similar to earth, so as to evoke the senses and bring Ana’s world alive. You made a convincing case for the setting to be designed and shine in the right proportion to the story, the jewel, and not overpower it.

  4. Thank you, Ashen! I totally understand the constructing of maps too. Not only are they beautiful objects in there own right and great visual aids to a story, but it’s a tangible way of referencing your world and keeping you on track.

    I’ve only done one map so far, for Fendellin, but I’d love to do a city map for Kallorm, maybe for Book 2 – Darkling Rise?

    Cheers honey! 😀 xx

  5. […] Sophie E Tallis, Sophie’s incredible posts take you on awe-inspiring journeys to breathtaking places and she is looking forward to the launch of her first novel White Mountain! […]

  6. Kate Jack says:

    Couldn’t sagree more, Sophie. 😀

  7. Another awe-inspiring post! Worldbuilding is such an essential part of creating a believable world for your story to unfold in.
    I have nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award, because you are truly Inspirational! Congratulations!! 😀

    • *blushes profusely*
      Thank you, thank you, thank you! That is SO kind of you sweetie! Wow! So, being a bit of a tech idiot, what do I have to do? 😀 xx

      • You really do deserve it!!
        The rules are on my blog, thank the person who nominated you, list 7 facts about yourself and nominate some more bloggers. 😀

      • Thank you so much honey! Embarrassing confession here though. I got nominated by Kay for the Sunshine Award on the 23rd July, and it was only after your nomination today that I finally twigged what I was supposed to do! D’uh! What a techno-idiot, eh?

        Anyway, I’ll answer her first if that’s okay then do yours tomorrow. But thank you SOOOO much, it really is so incredibly kind of you honey! :d xx

  8. Don’t feel bad I just remembered I got nominated for an award quite a while ago, I just checked back through Kay’s posts and she nominated me for the Versatile blogger award back on may 5th and I didn’t twig then I was supposed to do something either! so I will have to rectify that!!
    I did notice she nominated you for this award too!

  9. A heartfelt thank you to all you guys for your amazing support! I am genuinely touched and more than a little overwhelmed by it all!

    Thank you! 😀 xx

  10. Thank you so much, Sophie. Before answering you, I took the time to read some of your stuff and know whom I am addressing. I was so impressed by everything — your life, your illustrations, your writing and your personality. You also have wolves in your life! Wow! I have no idea what age-group you teach, but they must have a lot of fun with you. And how lucky to be living in the Cotswolds.

    All the best to you,

    • Gosh, I’m almost lost for words! Thank you so much, Thirza, for your very kind words – coming from such a gifted and prestigious writer, I am truly humbled.

      The Cotswolds are beautiful and I do feel very blessed to live and work here. I teach young children 5-6yrs so am always on the go, but it’s great fun.

      I must say, I first fell in love with Paris as a child, after watching ‘An American in Paris’ and later when watching ‘Les Enfants Du Pont Neuf’ with the wonderful Juliette Binoche. I was lucky enough to visit a couple of times and was simply enchanted by the city and its people, though I wish I had your wonderful books at the time!

      Best wishes and many thanks,
      Sophie 😀 xx

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