I have been quiet about my progress with my novel because I had to switch gears. My last update about writing was Plot Structure: The Writer’s Journey and Using a Plot Board. It was such a fantastic development with my novel. I’m a visual learner, so it helped tremendously to see my plot points organized and how they fit in the three-Act, eight sequence structure. The natural progression from there was to start writing. I reached 3,000 words and I finally had something to share in Novel Boot Camp for the critique session! It was a thrilling, nerve-wracking experience. I knew my story was intriguing and different which is what my critique partners noted. I felt validated that I have a story that others would be interested in reading.
The other part of the critique was how unclear the setting was. It was unclear to me and it was coming through in my writing too.
So, with this feedback, I decided to really dig in to my setting. This is what I know about my story and character so far:
• My main character is female and half Asian.
• There is a class system.
• My main character is also a warrior.
• The magical aspect of the story is rooted in nature.
• It’s a YA Fantasy.
• I didn’t want the typical Medieval European inspired fantasy setting.
There are other details about my story and character that I already know, but since this post is about world building, these are the details that I will be addressing in this post. (Can’t give the whole story away yet!)
World building is a daunting task especially if you’ve never done it before. My previous writing experience was in Contemporary Romance/New Adult Romance. Fantasy is a genre that I’ve recently started reading (by recently, I mean within the last three years). I also am aware that reading and writing fantasy are two different skills. I realized that I needed to do a little market research on successful YA Fantasy stories specifically stories with Asian settings or non-traditional Medieval European settings.
There were several titles that caught my attention because the settings were unusual (to me).
• Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo: Here’s my review at WordPress and at Goodreads. What I liked about the world building in this book was how the author uses Russian culture as an inspiration for her setting and blends it together with her story.
• The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow. Volume 1 by Fuymi Ono: Here’s the book decription on Goodreads. I found this book on a list of Fantasy stories with an Asian setting. (Yes, there was a list like that on Goodreads!) I thought it was a manga, but was pleased to discover it’s prose. It reminds of my Inuyasha anime/manga phase. I loved how the author sent her character from modern Japan to a fantasy world–very much like Alice following the rabbit down the hole and ending up in Wonderland. This story is very reminiscent of that except the main character Yuko fights demons.
• Stormdancer: The Lotus War Book One by Jay Kristoff: Here’s the book description on Goodreads. I actually heard about this book on the podcast Writing Excuses episode 10:18: Build an Entire World? Are You Crazy? Japanese steampunk? Say no more! Actually, I’m also enjoying how the author treated the class system in his story. There are four clans and one guild. Each clan is represented by a spiritual animal. The main clan in this story is the Kitsune (fox) clan. The female main character Yukiko is from the Kitsune clan. The author has an incredible vision of an industrialized Japan where the environment is also failing which he captures so well through the perspective of Yukiko.
• The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: Description on Goodreads. I felt like my journey for creating my novel was putting me on a path to encounter N.K. Jemisin and her novels. Her name kept coming up in my research for days and I kept putting her books aside because they weren’t YA and as you can see from above, I already had quite a few titles to read (still reading). But then Rick Riordan did a review on The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and he mentioned an interview the author did for The Guardian. It was a light bulb/Las Vegas bulb moment. I wasn’t alone in my vision and she articulated exactly how I was feeling:
“I don’t really understand why so many fantasy writers choose to focus on worlds that just seem strangely denuded. But to them I guess it doesn’t seem strange. And I guess that’s their privilege. It isn’t mine.”
I love the Fantasy genre. I enjoy being taken away to new worlds and encountering unique characters. After reading N.K. Jemisin’s interview, it really made me think about the kind of Fantasy stories I’m drawn too. The few titles I mentioned in this post are just a few, but some authors that stick out in my mind in YA Fantasy are Cinda Williams Chima, Rae Carson, Kristin Cashore, and Marissa Meyer. All of them have strong female heroines in their stories in settings that challenge the traditional fantasy setting of Medieval Europe. My first exposure to Adult Fantasy was Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy. I still get flaily and teary eyed when I think about those stories. Mistborn was the perfect beginning for me to get into Fantasy because in an otherwise hero white-male dominated genre, it gave me a point of reference that not all Fantasy books were like that and to give the genre a chance.
Then I started reading The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine Darr is a mixed race young woman of low social standing who has been named as one of the heirs to the kingdom. Her mother was of royal lineage, but abdicated her position because she loved her father. YES PLEASE. I swear this book is like the kindred spirt/soul mate of the story I want to write.
With examples of Fantasy books as part of my research for world building, I began the task of organizing the details for my story’s setting. This took a lot of time for me to figure out because I had never taken on such an endeavor before. It was frustrating, exhausting, and most of all incredible! When I thought I had hit a dead end or my vision for the story seemed ridiculous, I’d discover a detail that would reassure and even validate my intuition for my story’s setting. It’s such an amazing feeling to have that validation and realize you’re on the right path.
My next post will be on organizing my world building research. Have I mentioned how much I love learning? There will be a presentation board, sticky notes, and washi tape involved.
A sneak peek at my next post’s topic. I know you’re all anxious to see my attempts at world building and creating a map. Don’t worry, guys, my drawing skills are awful, so you will not enjoy my attempt at drawing a map.
Here’s the next post World Building Part 2: Story Research.