This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, September 03, 2012

Guestpost: "Elements of World Building" by Janalyn Voigt

Please welcome Author Janalyn Voigt. Her unique blend of adventure, romance, suspense, and fantasy creates worlds of beauty and danger for readers. Beginning with DawnSinger, her epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven carries readers into a land only imagined in dreams. She also writes western romance under Janalyn Irene Voigt. She is represented by Barbara Scott of Wordserve Literary and serves as a literary judge for several national contests and is an active book reviewer. When she's not writing, Janalyn loves to find adventures in the great outdoors.

Elements of World Building
Writing both historical fiction and epic fantasy would seem from most people’s perspectives, not to go hand-in-hand, but when viewed in a certain light, the two genres are not all that different. Each demands the creation of a world that cannot be seen, or at least not directly. Fantasy writers often use notes, charts and maps to help them envision their story’s world as they write. Historical fiction writers rely upon research notes, artifacts, and antique maps, but they still must use their imaginations to bring to life a bygone world.

I crossed the boundaries a little when I researched 13thCentury Europe as the basis for the world within my epic fantasy series, Tales of Faeraven, of which DawnSinger is book one. We read fantasy for the same reasons we consume historical fiction or any other genre: to understand the world we live in. Because of this, the best fantasy worlds evoke the real world at some point in its history.

 As both a book blogger and a literary judge, I’ve read historical fiction containing modern lingo. Some titles might as well have been set in modern times, since  they give so little attention to historical setting. These novels would have benefitted from more world building.

What are the elements of world building?
Cultural Distinctions: What are the demographics of inhabitants, broken into age, gender, and cultural groups? In the American West, there were far fewer women than men in many areas. Calling upon the cultural background of the peoples who lived in an area can lend authenticity to historical fiction. In fantasy novels, it provides cohesion. The Library of Congress site has a section on world cultural history.

Dialect:  Understanding your story's world demographics helps you find interesting dialects you may otherwise overlook. For instance, if you don’t know that a city had a strong Chinese demographic, you might not think to include an intriguing oriental character to enliven dialogue. In fantasy writing, use of dialect helps readers enter the world you’ve built. The Encyclopedia Brittanica has exhaustive descriptions of world dialects with links to descriptions of specific dialects.

Dwellings: Did people live far apart, close together in cities, or both? Some of the cities that once thrived are now ghost towns or have vanished altogether. Knowing about the living arrangements that existed in your story’s area helps establish it in the time period. Fantasy writers have more freedom in being able to invent the places where the inhabitants of their stories live, but they must still make sense geographically. History of Houses gives a historical overview of dwelling places.

Political Division of Power: Who made and enforced the rules in your story’s historical setting? What sort of political intrigue was happening at the time? The privilege of inventing these particulars is both the joy and bane of writing fantasy. Basing your story on a particular time frame helps ground your fiction and gives it the flavor of reality readers crave. Visiting A Chronology of World PoliticalHistory provides an overview of world history during a specific period. Searching for other sites with more localized timelines can also help. 

Current Events:  What was going on during your storyline? It’s best not to ignore major events your characters would know about and react to, like the end of the Civil War, the sinking of the Titanic, and the Great Depression. Be sure to check local news stories as well. Was Chicago on fire during a story you set there? Beware the urge to pump research facts into a story for no other reason than the edification of the reader, though. Historical facts must at the least provide historical context for your novel without overwhelming the reader. These sorts of facts can provide a wealth of inspiration to enhance fantasy novels based on historical time frames as well. Historical Timeline is one of many timeline sites:

Geography:  The shape, composition, and lay of the land and its features effects climate, plants, and creatures within a world. Getting a handle on these elements is essential to creating a believable world. Fantasy writers are as constrained by these realities as historical fiction writers. Take at look at Timeline of GeographicHistory.

Astronomy: Were there any peculiar occurrences (like eclipses, meteor showers, or the passing of Haley’s Comet) that a character might notice? Including such tidbits can add depth to fiction. The calendar at OnThis Date in History is helpful.

Climate: Was there an Indian summer or long winter during your story’s time frame? Some weather events (like monumental floods) became historical events. Both historical writers and fantasy writers should know how the weather of their story worlds works. You can find historical weather information at the Weather Underground.

DawnSinger (Tales of Faeraven): The High Queen is dying… At the royal summons, Shae mounts a wingabeast and soars through the air to the high hold of Faeraven, where all is not as it seems. Visions warn her of danger, and a dark soul touches hers in the night. When she encounters an attractive but disturbing musician, her wayward heart awakens. But then there is Kai, a guardian of Faeraven and of Shae. Secrets bind him to her, and her safety lies at the center of every decision he makes. On a desperate journey fraught with peril and the unknown, they battle warlike garns, waevens, ferocious raptors, and the wraiths of their own regrets. Yet, they must endure the campaign long enough to release the DawnKing—and the salvation he offers—into a divided land. To prevail, each must learn that sometimes victory comes only through surrender.
Where to Buy the Book:


Thanks for the chance to post for your readers, Jennifer.


Thanks for your guestpost. Hope you had a great Labor Day holiday!