How to Write a Book, Only I Forgot That It’s Fantasy So Now We’re Doing World Building Because Apparently You Can’t Just Have a Bunch of Kmarts Scattered Around A Magical Medieval Society.

Or, I mean, you could but that would be tacky. I mean, I would read it, but it would be tacky. I would feature it on my shelf prominently, extolling about your love of Kmart, but my god just don’t do this.

This may seem like a large oversight, considering the fact that I write fantasy. Some of you may try to defend me and say that, while I have written eleven books in total (shout out to Alice In the Land of Clovers doing teasers this week!), I must also ghostwrite contemporary romance on the side! Well, jokes on you and me, because I ghostwrite… Sci-fi kissing books and Paranormal romance.

So, uh… World building.

Spoiler alert: I make a mountain. That is the setting. A Mountain. But it’s a big mountain and I think it’s quite cool.

When you go to writing school, they teach you about the different types of conflicts. There’s man vs something, Man vs society, like two other ones– and man vs nature, which I remember really well because I use it all the damn time.

Now, see, I’ve already told you that I’m a messy girl. I believe that there should be as many conflicts as possible, largely because I love soap operas.

I think my favorite thing about the Chronicles of Whynne and the Legends of Haldia was that the setting itself was working against them. Ever since then, I’ve said to myself, ‘what is the best way to make this place awful and uninviting?”

No, like really, how can I make the setting itself dramatic? How can I choose violence? (Rule one of writing: Choose violence)

So, very obviously, we’ve got a mountain which give us serious grinch vibes (which I’m going to capitalize on, dammit), we’re gonna plop the troll king right on top of there so he can like glower and stuff.

Awesome. Now he’s looking down on everyone, which is cool because I don’t think people like that. I mean, they obviously don’t like him because of the whole making people sick thing here, it kind of seems like a jerk move, so him looking down on this sick village is probably not sitting well.

Introducing: We hate trolls, the village people edition.

What I like the most about humans in fantasy books is that at some point a large portion of authors just sat down at a table and were like, “well if there’s magic, they hate it,” and it just became a thing. Largely because people don’t understand it– kind of like kids and smartphones, or before that, people and books. (This is a real thing, look it up. The printing press happened, books became more widely available, and suddenly the old fogies were like, “why sue ellen read a book today for an hour instead of darning an extra sock, there surely is the devil in those things.” This also happened with the expansion of the romance genre, where basically a bunch of people were like, “wow, women are enjoying things… INSTEAD OF DOING HOUSEWORK. CRIMES.” Because very rarely can a woman have fun.)

Anyway, people hate magic, which is good for us because it takes our plain jane main character and gives her a big old prejudice, which makes the whole “acknowledging the troll king is a troll… mansaxophone music-,” thing even harder. Now these two have a little bit of tension, but this isn’t enough.

This is a kissing book and we’re going to make everything worse for mouth mashing reasons, okay?

I often ask myself, what is the worst way to meet someone? Obviously, the answer is the grocery store, because you’re just trying to mind your own business and perhaps buy a good deal of yogurt.

Your Kindle Unlimited subscription is going to a good cause.

Anyway, I don’t want anyone to see me at the grocery store, but that’s beyond the point. We’re doing kissing books here, kids, so buckle on up for the drama because someone is going to cry and it’s probably going to be me.

So what I’ve really fallen in love with here is just the idea of her going up that mountain, facing some diet mortal peril, getting saved, and then being like, “oh? You know what, buckaroo? This is all your fault. You suck. You’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’ve probably got some weird troll thing– I hate you.”

God is that good.

Okay, so let’s make this mountain a crazy cesspool of murder and violence you say; but no, I protest, that’s not good. Don’t do that.

We need tension, my boy. If we start throwing bears and avalanches everywhere, then they start losing their impact. I mean, you see one bear and it’s like, “there’s a bear! AH!” But after you see two bears it’s like, “there’s another bear. Ah.” You become disillusioned with the idea of bears and inclined to believe that you can fight them yourself. This actually sucks, because exits pursued by a bear is just such a good line.

Okay, so we can’t load this up with bears, that sucks.

But you know what we can do? Give a little ominous vibe, see some faces in the trees, like literally, and maybe have a goblin man do a funny little dance.

Bam! Now you’re a reader sitting here like, “when is something going to happen?”

I’ll talk more about that when we actually plot, but, we’ve built an environment. Or the beginnings of one.

Since we’re already on the mountain and we’ve established thar’ be trolls there, let’s just build our little troll society.

Because again, people hate trolls so they’d probably kind of band together, stay away from them and junk. I’m just saying.

Okay, now we get into nordic mythology.

We Have to Google Things, and Learn!

Yes, this is indeed an awful part of this, isn’t it? The whole learning thing is a little bit hard.

But anyway, let’s follow some rules of fantasy here, or like, the main one, which is….

Everything is made up and the points don’t matter.

Only like, spoiler, they kind of do.

I once got into a fantastic fiction writing discussion with a man on facebook and quite flatly stated that all work is derivative, because that is what I have learned and that is what I know in my experience to be true. Fiction Writing Man, however, corrected me and told me that his sci-fi adventure that may or may not have featured a human man who may or may not have been cursed to repopulate the planet with alien hotties and unfortunately become buffer with every single mate– that wasn’t derivative, that came from his soul.

So, uh, let me correct myself– all good work that makes sense and does not scare other people comes from something.

I am terrified of that man. Do I think he has an very active imagination? Yes. Would I say that his work is probably wholly unique without many shared elements with anything? Also yes. Do I think that he’s made things easy on himself and also his readers? No. Am I glad that he does not know where I live? Yes, yes, yes.

So let’s get some stuff and set some hard rules.

Being logical here, I would say that my setting likely has a lot of Scandinavian influence, so I went out of my way to research Scandinavian mythology, or more specifically; huldrefolk, elves, and trolls.

I actually already know a good deal about them because of my work with Whynne and fae mythology, which has some interwoven ideas with portions of the huldrefolk because vikings. Good job, buddies. And by that I mean, you terrify me.

You see, because of those slight similarities in mythos, I kind of have my work cut out for me– because fun fact, if you’ve read my other in universe Whynne series, Haldia is actually more huldrefolk and norse based with elements of Russian mythology as well. We’re just doing a lot of sea stuff because they spend a lot of time on the sea. As you do, really.

But we’ve decided against Russia for this book so, blegh. Swiss Alps, the Nordic five, and just a hint of Scottish mythology. That’s the formula here. We’re building a culture and we’re taking relevant parts of mythology in the process, giving them a little tweak like many fantasy authors do, but also continuing to write these books like a sort of love note to the mythos that inspired them.

But while we’re doing these love notes, there is something that we need to keep in mind, and I’m not going to mince words here: A lot of the European mythology that we know today has been morphed by the spread of Christianity.

Things get historic and sad for a moment. I mean, if you want to really do a lot of research on this, you can, and I do suggest that you do.

I’m saying this very seriously because I am a YA author, and I do have teenage readers, and I do want them to know. I don’t feel like I have to be a moral beacon for anyone under the age of eighteen, and I am by far not a shining pillar of goodness– but I want you guys to know, and I want to acknowledge this and say that it is an active choice for me to be continue to be inclusive and kind to other people as well as talk about some lesser known portions of pagan folklore.

This is kind of like a really unavoidable thing to talk about, but when you get into mythology about the fae and stuff like that, you also the rise of Christocentric mythology that was at first encouraged by churches to aide in the process of stomping out paganism. You really have to understand that when writing is becoming popularized and stories are being shared in the written format, people who are not of the Church did not have the resources nor abilities to preserve that part of their history. The people who are writing when we still see these large chunks of what will become cultural folklore in Europe are more often than not, Christian monks and other members of the church. They have the resources, they have the money, they have the ability to write. We could get further into it and talk about what branches those people were from and how that effected stories differently, but at their core a large portion of the people recording folklore and mythology are Christian and their underlying intention (whether they are consciously acting on it or not) is to serve Christ.

Which results in the common morphism of fae ideals into the fairy or the pixie, many images and stories of which were modified to make them closer to the commonly held Christian canon of angels (not the spinning death wheels, I know that you know what I am talking about.). This also results in the Christianization of King Arthur’s tales, the lesser understanding of the Green Man (which is a common artistic motif), and so forth. This happened because in morphing that mythology, they also made it easier to convert pagans to their beliefs by basically peppering in Christian ideals or saying things like, “wow, those fairies sure look a lot like angels and we do have a lot on them!”

And I’m talking about this and I’m saying that it’s awful that this happened in a very flat out way, because when we get into goblins and trolls we’re getting into a part of history that you really need to understand to get why I am building them the way that I am building them; and that’s antisemitism. A lot of the times in attempts to villainize the Jewish people, we see an exaggeration of features and dehumanization that has extended to mythology. We see a deliberate attempt to draw parallels in art and literature to hurt and degrade people. And I don’t support that. This is not a case of, “I want this to be a sexy guy,” and even if it were and I were to just throw a coat of paint on a guy and call it good, that would be okay because it would be better than it has been.

In a lot of cases with creatures in pagan mythologies, they’ve really become sort of tools to spread hate against not only the jewish people, but pagans, people of color, people with disabilities, and people who identify as queer. So I took portions of that mythology and I just threw it the hell away.

Not in my house.

I think it is easy enough to say, “thank you for your mythology, I think I see a little racism in there. That’s gross, I’m throwing it the hell away.” We’re fantasy authors, I think we get to pick and choose what we are comfortable with and how we are going to represent ourselves, and I am choosing not to go with a commonly held character design that I am uncomfortable with.

I rebuild a magical creature.

So I’m looking back to Scandinavian mythology, and I’m taking some other crap. Stuff I’m comfortable with, like that some trolls look and act exactly like humans– hell yeah, love that, but uh, I’m adding some caveats and changing some bits while playing a little bit more into other parts of Scandinavian mythology that come with trolls apart from that as well as referencing a few other interpretations of trolls. Like Peer Gynt’s, who portrayed trolls as having tails and being exceedingly clever–it does get a bit closer to the huldra mythology, so I really have to look at how I do it and make sure that the huldra are still their own distinct entities regardless of whether or not they are involved in this story because otherwise I’m just misidentifying the king and that’s stupid because someone out there is waiting for the Huldrefolk romance that I could have given them gosh darn it. I’ve seen a few illustrations of trolls with hair tuffs tipping their ears, and I love that idea, I think that’s something that is inhuman in a way and can add something to a character to say a lot about who they are. I do like the idea of larger, husklike troll teeth, so I’m basically going to take the mouth of a hippo…

What a very handsome boy.

And I’m scaling it down, filing those teeth a little bit, and keeping the overall feeling of elongated teeth paired with flatter, rounder ones, but making it more human. Because sometimes people do not feel things for things that seem too inhuman. Not sure why. I’m just guessing people don’t want to kiss hippo tusks here.

I mean, like, okay I kind of get the whole human but a little different thing, but blugh. Take this slightly inhuman, but just human enough to make you feel comfortable king and go, be glad that I did not do worse.

Bam! So now we know what those boyos look like, and now we’re tapping more into culture, throwing a few things away (like the fear of the toll of specifically church bells) and build us a culture.

So, folklore wise there is actually many types of trolls, and I think that’s something I really want to play with; I’ll probably do a whole world building post later on once it gets closer to when the book comes out, but what we’re going to play with now are mountain trolls, because that’s what we’re going to see a lot on this mountain. Like yes, there’s trees too, and obviously we are gonna have a whole host of forest based trolls as well huldrefolk who are sort of integrated into this ‘other’ society, but what we’re going to see a lot of that’s really really relevant to our main characters is mountain trolls.

Because I mean we have this troll king.

And he lives on a mountain.

If he’s not a mountain troll, then what the hell is he doing there?

So, mountain troll society.

Say government, and no one bats an eye. Say troll government and society goes wild.

Okay, let’s get it out of the way, there’s a troll king, there’s a royal troll structure, and I’m choosing to exclude the royal troll court from the whole living in the palace experience because I just feel like living constantly under scrutiny of the troll king just sucks, and the vibes that I’m getting from the troll species is just not constant vigilance is okay with me vibes.

I mean, I wouldn’t be okay with it either, and I’m human.

A lot of the time in folklore they’re just… there. Which is interesting, I guess, and I take a look at that and I think. I use my little yogurt addled pea brain and I create! Yes, I am putting the creative in my creative writing degree by using my brain and coming up with one sentence:

Troll culture is hard, manual work, but enjoying what you do and not really seeking out luxuries.

Groundbreaking.

Okay, I have logic, alright? While in Whynne we see a lot of fae who lavish in material things, that just does not seem to be the troll lifestyle. The stories I’m reading are pretty much saying that trolls are standing there guarding something or preventing people from doing something with little gain other than that– Which makes me think that there’s something important to them, but since there’s not like a freaking herd of trolls half the time when they’re standing there, maybe it’s just to them.

So, theoretical: There’s the troll Woodcarver Mcgee who has carved fifty bowls this weekend and guards them with his life because he is not just a woodcarver, but a bowl cutter and that concept is important to him. He understands the value of hard work, but unlike dwarves he’s also more likely to take time out and enjoy himself as well. (There’s so many illustrations of trolls just hanging out together, love that for them.)

Cool, now we know the heart of troll culture is a seven day workweek and a drink after it’s done.

We also know they live in caves, because that’s just such a big thing, we’re keeping the caves.

I picture them as being more isolated clusters than anything, not exactly prone to throwing big market places and trading macaroni art if you get my gist.

And I’m deciding to keep the fact that they don’t like bells. Not church bells, specifically, But just bells, because I think that’s interesting.

Time for the nasty humans.

Human society is easy to me. Because I am a human, and the people who read my books tend to be human. I hope.

So in my premise, I pretty much already said that they have a ritual that they do to appease the troll king, which is obviously going to be a large part of this setting and makes this important, but since we don’t really spend a crap ton of time here and I’m not a flashback queen, I’m just going to make it basic.

We have a village. They have elders, maybe a mayor. They do rituals, they’re pre industrial revolution, maybe Victorian age. Lots of snow. And they don’t have an asian beetle problem. Nothing else special except for the major troll sickness that’s been tearing through their population and leaving several unconscious for months on end.

Amazing, we’ve done it. We’ve created a society, one that is arguable better than Minnesota with one sentence.

Now we can plot… or could.

If this post wasn’t already long enough. I apologize for my little rant, uh, I present to you… my pinterest! Or, more accurately, the pinterest board I’ve been staring wistfully at whenever I need to get in the mood to write this book!

If any of you care enough or wanted to spy on me, you could also probably find my inspiration boards for a few other series and projects, and sort of get an idea of what’s to come. If you don’t care, fair enough. I feel it.


Time for a picture of my dog! And the obligatory, “I’m doing nanowrimo and it is not awful and I am not dying,” update.

Where I am on Nanowrimo:

Want to write with me? Get some advice? Or just see how I’m doing and peer pressure me? Friend me on Nanowrimo.org.

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