Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or on her author website.
A few Mondays back, Stephanie blogged about how to create rich settings for your contemporary story. This was such a brilliant post, and if you missed it, click on that link and read it now.
Do the same rules apply to contemporary worldbuilding when you're writing a contemporary fantasy novel? Absolutely. Does that mean you don't need to spend time worldbuilding? Um, no. You still need to build the fantasy elements of your story and figure out how they interact with the contemporary world.
Think about Camp Half-Blood in the Percy Jackson books and all the planning Rick Riordan must have gone through to combine Greek mythology with today’s culture. And in the Harry Potter series, the entire wizarding world took an incredible
amount of worldbuilding. From Hogwarts and the other wizarding schools to the intricacies
of the Ministry of Magic, like using paper airplanes for memos rather than
owls, since the birds were making a mess.
All that is worldbuilding. But how do you combine your super cool worldbuilding with a contemporary setting? There are two tricks I use, and I talked about these in my Storyworld First book. The first trick is to show the progression of belief. The second is to give the tour.
Progression of Belief
When an everyday, regular person gets
sucked into a fantasy world, there must be a moment when he realizes, “This is
no joke. This is really happening to me!” That is called the progression of
This is important in contemporary fantasy
stories. It’s a process the main character must go through, and it helps the
reader as well. As the main character comes to believe, so does the reader. This
progression should be gradual.
In the Harry Potter books, strange things have often happened in Harry’s
life, and the year he turns eleven years old, owls begin to deliver letters addressed
to him. But it’s not until Harry sees Hagrid do magic that he starts to
believe. And it’s not until he passes into Diagon Alley that he sees and believes.
Lightning Thief, Percy's substitute teacher turns into a fury (a monster),
and Percy believes that something strange is going on. 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!” Then later, when Percy wakes up in Camp Half-Blood,
sees that Grover is a satyr, Mr. Brunner is a centaur, and is told his father
is Poseidon, he sees and believes.
If you’re writing this kind of story,
make sure you give your hero this progression that leads to seeing and
believing the world is real.
Give Him The Tour
Another important component in an earthly
fantasy is that 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 gives him some details. 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. At school all the first year students get sorted, then the
head boy of each house takes them to their dorms. All this serves as a good way
to show the reader everything he needs to learn about the storyworld.
As the author, you need to know how the
world works to be able to write these scenes. The first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is
from Mr. Dursley’s point of view, and he mentions all the owls and the people
dressed in strange robes and hats. But later on, throughout the books, we learn that most wizards don’t go
around in public all that often. They tend to keep to themselves, away from
muggles. They place enchantments and illusions over 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.
These details don’t come to us all at once or in an all-encompassing prologue.
They are interspersed into the story, carefully placed right where they need to
So think about your world. Can regular people
see it? Is it right under their noses? Or is it set apart where most people won’t
just happen by, like Camp Half-Blood or Hogwarts? Are there secret entrances?
If so, how do they work? Maybe your world is in the clouds like Sky High. Or maybe it’s underground like
the Lower Elements where the fairies live in the Artemis Fowl books. Wherever you place it, take the time to know how it works and interacts with the contemporary world.
Can you think of some other examples in contemporary fantasy novels that show either the progression of belief or giving the main character a tour? Share in the comments.
Also, I'm on vacation today, in Disneyland, actually, so if I don't answer comments right away, that's why! Talk to you all soon.