The granddaddy of fantasy fiction is Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings. Volumes can be written on what he accomplished in establishing the genre, what plot elements, what kind of characters, what kind of obstacles he threw at his characters. I will only focus on one element, the narrative that runs behind the narrative, what that is, and why it’s important.
What made the trilogy compelling for me was not just the plot but also the world he created. Tolkien peopled Middle-earth with unique characters: trolls, giant spiders, orcs, balrogs, wizards, dwarves, elves, ents, and, of course, hobbits. These creatures didn’t operate in a vacuum. They played out their lives in cities, forests, rivers, inns, plains, harbors, and inside the bowels of mountains. A map showed where everything was—if it’s on a map, it exists. They were normal, everyday people (hobbits); and extraordinary people (Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel, Ringwraiths, Sauron). There was magic (Sting, the mere of Galadriel, the rings). These elements built a tangible world. You feel certain it must exist, somewhere. You want to live there, hopefully, in the Shire, Rivendell, or Lothlorien.
One more thing runs through the narrative, one more thing thrums beneath the surface like an underground river, surfacing periodically in sometimes heroic, sometimes haunting tones: the old stories; the myths. These come out in songs sung around the fire, in tales told, even in Sam telling Frodo, “Like in the old stories, Mr. Frodo,” when just knowing there are old stories, without even hearing the story, we’re certain they are there, because we feel that underground stream pulsing. It’s not just a world, existing now, it’s a world with a history, where real people walked and did bold things, where tragedy and comedy played out on a vast stage.
World building requires establishing the rules of how the world works, and of course, sticking with those rules. If there is magic, what are the limitations on that magic? In my novel, Wyndano’s Cloak, there are two worlds, one where magic exists, and one where magic can only happen if it’s brought in from the other world, a rare occurrence, since few people in one world know about the other, and travel between worlds is also rare. The implications of being in the magicless world is that if you’re not from there, if something goes wrong with your magic, you might get stuck there! With the stakes that high, you better believe I used that in my plot!
World building requires attention to history, culture, technology, language, geography, evolution, and the individual biographies of the characters, all working together as a coherent whole. In Wyndano’s Cloak, the Plain World is reminiscent of late-nineteenth-century America. The magic world is akin, technologically, to Renaissance Europe. The Plain World is dreary, plagued with continual rain. The other world has Aerdem, a jewel of a kingdom, a place so bursting in vibrant color that it makes the Plain World look like it was in painted in tones of gray. The heroine, Jenren, grew up in the Plain World, where an old woman, Nell, adopted and raised her. Jenren feels like an outsider, never fitting in, never belonging. After Nell dies, Jenren sets off on a quest to find her mother, a quest that takes her to Aerdem, and beyond. What does she find? Magic water that bestows speech on animals. A castle, hewn from a single block of crystal, with flickering flames that warn of danger. A cloak that bestows shapeshifting power on the wearer. A magician whose magic works sometimes, but sometimes doesn’t. And a queen, Naryfel, whose magic does work, powerfully, and who used it to tear her family apart nine years ago, nearly killing them; nearly driving her father mad.
At the start of Wyndano’s Cloak, three idyllic years have past. Jenren is no longer an outsider. She’s in the loving arms of her family, and feels as if she’s known them all of her life. She belongs. Having found them at last, it would be unthinkable to lose them. But the unthinkable happens. At the start of the novel, she receives a cryptic warning. She’s certain that Naryfel is back, with her sights set firmly on Jenren’s family. Jenren’s yearning for family safety drives her through the rest of the novel.
World building is not random. It requires careful attention. Pay attention to the narrative behind the narrative. It will reward you with compelling and original plots!
Jen has settled into a peaceful life when a terrifying event awakens old fears—of being homeless and alone, of a danger horrible enough to destroy her family and shatter her world forever.
She is certain that Naryfel, a shadowy figure from her past, has returned and is concentrating the full force of her hate on Jen’s family. But how will she strike? A knife in the dark? An attack from her legions? Or with the dark arts and twisted creatures she commands with sinister cunning.
Wyndano’s Cloak may be Jen’s only hope. If she’s got what it takes to use it .
Purchase Wyndano’s Cloak at the following: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | iTunes | Purchase limited edition hardback from A.R. Silverberry
A. R. Silverberry has won a dozen awards, including Gold Medal Winner in the 2011 Benjamin Franklin Awards for Juvenile/Young Adult Fiction; Gold Medal Winner in the 2010 Readers Favorite Awards for Preteen Fiction; and Silver Medal Winner 2011 in the Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book, Children’s/Young Adult. He lives in California, where the majestic coastline, trees, and mountains inspire his writing. Wyndano’s Cloak is his first novel.