As a fantasy author, I've spent time studying how the greats went about it in hopes that my product might be as good ... or even a pale imitation. Last week I touched on the broad outlines of the craft. Today, I'm drilling down into the specifics.
It starts with Defining the Physical World
Defining your locale is an excellent place to start. Setting ideas can come from newspapers, magazines, TV shows, a walk in the woods, or a drive through a city.
For fantasy writers, it's often all about the map, which readers often demand to be included in the book. I suggest that writers ought to consider a map for just about any story they're writing. Your readers may never see it and they may not miss it, but it is incredibly helpful to know the layout of the house where the action takes place and, if the characters venture outside the building, having a rough sketch of the surrounding area helps to keep you, the writer, oriented. When I do this, I scribble in street names, inns, the palace and the brothel -- pretty much any place that involves my main characters. If the action is in a rural location, I lay out farms, caravanseries, duns, etc. My readers may not need this information, but the more detail I insert into the story, the more real the setting seems to the reader.
In addition to a map, you may want to jot down descriptions of places you will need to use in your story. What building materials are used in homes? Do they differ depending on the status of the occupants?
What about foods eaten by your characters? Is it the standard fare of bread, cheese and tough meat or the rich board found in George Martin's Game of Thrones?
What sort of plants exist in your world? And how do you describe them? Is an oak tree called an oak tree or an acorn tree? Where do these trees grow? Nothing is more jarring to me as a reader from a northern state (Alaska) than to have an author put a tree in a latitude where I know they can't grow. Just as there are no magnolia trees in Alaska and no black spruce in Georgia, similar plants have ranges in the world of Daermad because I don't want to jar a reader out of the willing suspension of disbelief.
Give some thought to clothing worn by the characters. I seek out artists' renders of old Celtic and medieval garb to use in Daermad Cycle, but there's also a logic to what northern people wear as opposed to what southern people wear. Again, my readers may not even recognize the differences, but my adherence to my own world rules allows me to impart realism into the story in a subtle, yet satisfying way.
The more details you jot down, the better you (the writer) are be able to track how your world operates and the greater your readers' engagement with your speculative world will be.
Lela Markham is a speculative fiction author of The Willow Branch (an epic fantasy) and Life As We Knew It (an apocalyptic). Both are first in series. You can find her blatherings, author interviews and more at her main blog. This posting is brought to you courtesy of the Booktrap -- an authors' marketing cooperative.