October 25, 2012

fantasy world building - guest post by a.m. jenner

First stop on my international blog tour, Arkansas. Thanks so much to Brooke Johnson for hosting me; it’s good to be here.
With the release of my new book, The Siege of Kwennjurat, I’ve had people ask how I make the worlds where my books are set.

When a book is set in a real place, the world building is less like creation and more like research. I end up going to some interesting neighborhoods; and by interesting I mean places that are slightly frightening, even though I don't get out of the car. I look at what’s there and describe it. This gives realism and immediacy to the story.

When a book is set in an imaginary place, with a contemporary setting, I can describe any buildings and put them anywhere I want, but I need to make notes and remain consistent. If the building across the street from my main character’s real estate office is a bakery, then it needs to stay a bakery all the way through.

When a book is set in a totally made-up location, then anything goes, right? Well, no. If I want a story my readers can identify with, then my main characters should be pretty much human, because my readers are human. (If you have alien readership, email me with details on how to break into that market!) Humans need to live in conditions found on earth. This means I can have jungle, forest, islands, mountains, or desert. If the environment is harsh or inimical to human life, such as an arctic ice sheet, a vacuum, or an unbreathable atmosphere, then I need to provide my characters with life-support equipment, such as warm clothing or a bio-dome type of enclosure. The time I set my book in will dictate available technology. For example, I recently typed a manuscript that was written before cell phones were omnipresent, so the characters don’t have them in their pockets. As revisions are done, I need to update the technology, which will change the plot somewhat.

Tanella’s Flight has a Medieval to Renaissance European setting, which means mostly agricultural, nobility, large estates, and very small villages clustered along the main roads. It is not in any real place or time. I made up my own geography and national boundaries, but by borrowing a known technology level and social system, the world-building was made much easier. During the writing of Tanella’s Flight, some of the places got moved for the convenience of the story, but things got very complicated. I stopped work on the book, and created a map that got tacked to the wall above my desk and became the final authority on travel time and distances. At that point, the dates in the book all had to be adjusted, and one character got to live an extra week.

The Siege of Kwennjurat, being the sequel to Tanella’s Flight, is set in the same world, and the map remained above my desk until the book was finished. I will miss seeing it there; it has been in place for more than five years.

Because of what I learned about the importance of maps; when I sat down to write Crown of Tears, I started with the map. Crown of Tears is set in an island grouping. I drew the islands and decided where the main hills of each island were. Then I drew in the rivers. Cities got set on or near rivers, and in good coves along the coast. I decided on the technology level and put roads between important locations.

The next step was determining distances and shipping routes between places. I had a regular monthly schedule of “world-wide” shipping figured out before I wrote a single word on the manuscript. I knew where my characters lived, what they needed to accomplish, and where they needed to travel in order to do that. Then I matched my outline up with the shipping schedules, and the length of the roads to figure out how long it would take to get from one place to another. The map stage probably took me two or three weeks of calculation and labor, including integrating the maps and story. All this preparation made the actual writing go swiftly, though, and I completed the rough draft in 25 days.

While world-building is more complicated for a fantasy or science fiction novel than a contemporary suspense novel set in my own neighborhood where the world already exists around me, defining the novel’s setting and placing your characters in it is always a fun adventure.


About the Book:

The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms.

Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children.

Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?

About the Author:

A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes, several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at www.am-jenner.com, as well as most major online retailers.


  1. Very interesting points regarding world building. As someone who favors worlds built from scratch, there's something wonderful about discovering that world's nuances throughout the reading of the novel. Wishing you the very best with our publication.

    Great guest today, Brooke *waves*

    1. *waves back* thanks for visiting, Angela :)

      i'm also a huge world-builder, as anyone who's ever read my stuff can attest to.

    2. Thanks, Angela. I hope many people enjoy the world I've built.

  2. Interesting, because when I am reading I find myself at times wanting to draw a map. Interesting that you start that way. :)

    1. Sometimes it becomes impossible for an author to keep track of where they are without a map. Things become inconsistent, because travel times are messed up. If the author really doesn't know where the characters are going, how to get there, or how long it will take, the reader will certainly become confused.