Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Storyworld Building: Worlds Within Our World

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This post now part of the book Storyworld First: Creating A Unique Fantasy World For Your Novel by Jill Williamson.

Allison asked for a post on creating a fantasy world within our world, and it fit best to put it here in my lineup. Because the same rules apply in building a storyworld whether you put it in a made-up land or you put it in Detroit. You still need to create all of the elements. Think about the different powers halfbloods have in the Percy Jackson books in relation to the posts last week. Or think about the intricate government Rowling created with the Ministry of Magic in the Harry Potter books. Contemporary or even futuristic fantasy stories that take place on earth still need all these components to be strong storyworlds.

That said, let's look at a few things to remember when creating this type of a storyworld.

Progression of Belief 
This is important in a contemporary fantasy story. It's the process of how the main character comes to believe. You need this progression to be gradual to pull off a contemporary fantasy. In Harry Potter, things have happened to him all his life, strange things, and then the letters come, but it's not really until he sees Hagrid do magic that he starts to believe. And it's not until he passes into Diagon Alley that he sees and believes.

"Welcome to Diagon Alley."

In Percy Jackson, Percy's substitute teacher turns into a fury (a monster), and Percy believes that something strange is going on. And Mr. Brunner gives him a pen, which he calls a "powerful weapon," and tells Grover to take Percy and his mom to Camp Half Blood. On the way, they're attacked by a minotaur, Grover tells Percy to, "Use the pen!" And when Percy wakes up in Camp Half Blood, sees that Grover is a satyr and Mr. Brunner is a centaur, and is told his father is Poseidon, he sees and believes.

"It's a pen."

How Does it Work?
This is another important component in a contemporary fantasy. Once the main character believes, he usually gets a tour. Or at least a short explanation. Harry Potter gets several tours. First he sees Diagon Alley, and Hagrid tells him a few things. Then at school all the first year students get sorted, then the head boy of each house takes them to their dorms. Then Harry makes friends with Ron and Hermione, who are there to fill him in on the things he doesn't know about the wizarding world. All this serves as a good way to fill in the reader on things the reader needs to learn about the storyworld.

As the author, you need to know how it works to be able to write these scenes. Harry Potter chapter one is from Mr. Dursley's point of view, and he mentions all the owls and the people dressed in strange robes and hats. Later we learn that most wizards don't go around like that in public all that often. They tend to keep to themselves, away from muggles. They place enchantments and illusions over places of business and homes and schools so that muggles might not accidentally stumble upon them. The Ministry of Magic is underground and one can get there through the phone booth or by floo powder. Platform 9 3/4 is magical, and to get into it, you have to run at the pillar between platforms 9 and 10 at the King's Cross station in London.

So think about your world. Can regular folk see it? Is it right under our noses? Or is it set apart, like Camp Half Blood and Hogwarts, off where most people won't just happen by? Maybe your world is in the sky like Sky High. Or maybe it's underground like the Ministry of Magic. Are there secret entrances? If so, how do they work?

Sky High

A Future Earth
I'd also like to quickly discuss the future storyworld from our world. I did this a little in my book Captives. I took a real place (Crested Butte, Colorado) and put my future city there. How did I incorporate the real place? I researched the weather, climates, vegetation, wildlife, rainfall, and snowfall. I drew my map of the Safe Lands over the top of a ski resort map of Crested Butte, Colorado. I kept some of the same street names. I used the names of ski trails as names of hotels, restaurants, or houses. It was pretty fun.

I just read Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. This book was AMAZING! It's a teen fantasy novel about a future in which super villains have taken over the world. It's set in Newcago, what was once Chicago, years in the future after the Epics came and Steelheart, the Epic who runs Newcago, turned the city to steel. So old Chicago is still there, it's just coated in steel. It's pretty sweet, and a great example about how to build a futuristic storyworld on earth.

I liked Steelheart so much that I'm giving away a copy of it on my blog this week! Click here to read my review and enter to win the book.

Any questions about creating a fantasy world on earth?


  1. Thanks, I'm totally getting inspired through your posts about all of these fantasy things! I'm brainstorming ALL THE TIME now!! Thanks so much!!! :D And this post is totally getting my brain working. Wheels are spinning on how this world connects to that one, fun! :)

    1. I'm glad, TW. Spinning wheels are good for writers!

  2. I sort of have a question,

    So basically, you can put any kind if fantasy on Earth? So like you can put a magician, a dragon, or anything magical or fantasy-like on Earth?

    This helps out a lot with a book I want to write!

    1. You bet you can. Do it, Samuel. Make it happen. :-)

    2. Good, 'cause I kinda thought it was a little weird.
      But that's the point.
      By the way, I think it's awesome that that you made Safe Lands from a "former" ski resort.
      We have some relatives up near Denver, and we always go skiing there whenever its snowing.
      I wonder if I have been to Crested Butte... Guess I'll have to convince my mom and dad to go next time we visit my grand parents.
      (That would be so cool if I got to see Safe Lands!) (Well, what Safe Lands looked like before it was Safe Lands.)

    3. And maybe see where Mason, Levi, Omar, and Shaylinn "lived".

    4. That would be cool. And I'd be very jealous, because I wanted to go there. It's a ways from Denver.

    5. At least I live near Colorado, "cause you live in Oregon! ;)

      (Well, you could visit Alasaka or California, since those are hometowns of your other characters.)

      But I don't know what you would do about visiting Achan's hometown.

  3. Hahahahaha! Oh Percy Jackson. I loved that line so much. And does anyone else get the pen/sword reference?
    Anyway, I LOVED this post. In reading City of Bones right now which of course has the Shadowhubter world hidden from us "mundies", and I thought to myself, "hey, that's cool. I'd like to write a fantasy-in-the-real-world story, but I have no idea where to begin." Well, this post is most certainly going on my bookmarks list.

    1. Someday, Hannah. Someday you will write one. :-)

  4. I love this! I've had a few ideas before for world-within-ours type of genre, but I've never known how to go about working on them. Thanks a lot! :)