“World-Building Wednesdays” is a feature where guest authors drop by once or twice a month to share insight into their world-building strategies. I thought up this idea because I am a freak for world-building, as you may well know. Whether or not someone else has come up with the idea “World-building Wednesdays” before, I do not know. However, I did come up with the idea myself, it just might not be original.
That being said, WELCOME TO WORLD-BUILDING WEDNESDAYS!
For previous world-building guest posts, please visit the Author Spotlight page.
Today’s guest is a new-to-me author whose first YA Fantasy book in the Delantharkas Cycle series, Knave, will be released this year. Harper has a flash fiction piece titled The Rite available to read on his website, as well as chapter one of Knave. YA Epic Fantasy is a love of mine, though I have not read nearly enough of it. I’m really interested to hear what Harper has to say…
WELCOME HARPER JAYNE!
DELANTHARKAS: FROM WORLD CONCEPT TO TRILOGY
Have you ever considered where the concept for a novel originates?
There are plenty of answers to that question, of course. For some it will start with a character whose voice is particularly compelling. A literal siren’s song which draws the attentions of its creator. In other instances there will be a plot that rises up in the author’s mind. Plot details seem to sprout like branches and leaves fanning out from a trunk. Perhaps a theme demands to be explored and won’t let the writer rest until they do so. A message simply has to be conveyed, cost what cost. Or it can be born of a desire to play with genres. That mad fusion of romance and zombies that just has to be written out.
Yet sometimes those reasons aren’t the impetus behind a work. In the case of my current novel project, the answer is indeed none of those things. Instead, the world itself demanded to be featured. The Delantharkas Cycle is a trilogy of Young Adult Fantasy novels set, as you might imagine, in an invented world. A world that was in and of itself so compelling that it commanded me to make it the backdrop for my debut series.
This setting is a very, very old one. It’s been kicking around inside my head (as well as on various bits of paper and in a number of digital files) for at least 15 years, and it might be even older than that. (The problem with getting older is that some ideas have lost clear definition of their origins.)
There have been some changes over the years as I have worked with the world for various projects. Though it has always been called Delantharkas, the etymology of the name went through a major revamp when I started writing the trilogy. It now means “The Will of the Iron Folk” and is the name of the major political power which stands opposed to that of the protagonists. It also doubles as the world’s name.
I’m not going to spoil every surprise that I have in store, but I do want to explain why the setting is so central to the novels. After all, some stories can be told with an interchangeable backdrop. These tales work no matter what you put behind them, since the setting is window-dressing. This is not a bad thing per se (though the more integral you make all aspects of your story the better); there’s no reason why you have to lean heavily on your setting in order to write something worth reading.
But the world of Delantharkas is integral to the story because the setting itself forms the impetus for the action. The concept is a classic “what if” (which is admittedly more often found in Science Fiction but it works in Fantasy quite well):
“What would happen if, after hundreds of years in isolation, the magical barrier protecting an entire nation were to fall?”
Well, thinking about that question, a whole bunch of different things might happen. What does actually happen is what I get to explore starting with my debut novel, Knave. The further examination of the world, its history, and even its ultimate (for now?) fate all fall within the scope of the three novels. It’s my intention to tell the story of the place right alongside that of the characters.
But, oddly enough, I don’t do that by bludgeoning people with narrative exposition. I had a classic fantasy reader respond with some dismay when she read through the opening chapter. She keenly felt that lack of description and exposition. Compared to works by some authors in the genre, Knave is positively spartan where it comes to flowery passages full of descriptions of the scenery, and in particular it starts off with a BANG instead of a load of stage-dressing.
This is not usual for the fantasy genre. Normally you don’t get the bang until a couple of chapters into an invented world work. I’m going against the established (though exceptions abound of course) norm, despite the fact that my setting is so important to the story. No big long flowery descriptions of how incredibly beautiful and vibrantly green it all is here in the shur where the hablits work, and play, and live, and dance, and drink, and grow old (very old, oh so old) in happy blissful happiness. (No hablits were harmed in the writing of this description. I promise)
Instead, the world of Delantharkas is reflected in the eyes of the viewpoint character and his companions. Their dialogue, their reactions, their actions . . . all of those play a part in showing the reader the world in a very intimate manner. Thus Imris, the viewpoint character of Knave (and the readers along with him), learns more about the world as the tale unfolds. (For more fun, the following two novels allow the readers to experience the world through the eyes of the other two primary characters.)
This strategy allows for two major benefits. The first is that it makes the book read more easily, and thus quickly. That’s an essential thing in the genre I have chosen and at the length I anticipate the novels to come in at. Teens are not stupid in the slightest (the book-reading group tends to be pretty bright on average in part because the act of reading helps heighten your intellect) but they do have less patience on average than an adult. So number one, quick and easy reading that keeps moving forward as the character discovers the world; construction that allows a reader to traverse what is not a short novel within a relatively brief time.
Then we have the second benefit. This approach lets me hide things. By not exposing the entire world up front (or in large chunks) and only revealing it bit by bit, the process of discovery and the reveal of the world’s secrets takes place over not just one novel, but three. There’s no sense of this is exactly how all this works and you need to remember this because it’s important later. Rather, details are brought up as they are discovered, and as they are relevant. This also means I get the fun of overturning the assumptions of the characters as they are proven wrong (and that doesn’t happen just once . . .)
So really, there’s nothing stopping me from describing in great detail what things look like, how they came to be, what the annual rainfall is, and whose cousin is now the mayor of the neighboring village which primarily exports wool and pickles. But there are plenty of those works floating around, and I wanted to make a more organic piece of literature, where the exposure to the world and its wonders is to be experienced, rather than memorized. I wanted to make every word tell.
Time will eventually work its magic and expose how well I have managed to do my job, of course. Making a strange world slip unobtrusively into the readers’ minds as they race along with the characters during a string of heart-pounding adventures isn’t precisely a science after all. (Writing is an art, and that’s why it’s so damned subjective.) But it’s a hell of a lot of fun trying to make that a reality.
A veteran writer of materials for online publications and video game lore, Harper began writing long form fiction full-time in 2009. His debut novel, Knave, will be released in early 2012. Knave is the first book in the Delantharkas Cycle, a trilogy of Young Adult Fantasy novels.
Harper lives in sunny southern California, though he dreams of striking it rich (or, more honestly, simply of making a living wage) with his writing and moving back up north to his hometown: Seattle. He is married, has one daughter, and a very silly dog.
If you are an author and would like to write a guest post for World-Building Wednesdays, please contact Ash at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SmashAttackAsh. We would love to hear your thoughts!
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