Building Worlds

Rabbit - psychicAs a writer, I experience moments where I feel all powerful.

With my current fantasy novel, I have spent the last few years creating an entire world, filled with people and creatures and tribes and religions and landscapes that have all tumbled from my mind.  When I stand back from it all, it almost doesn’t seem possible that I created this.  It’s been with me for so long that I find myself thinking: surely this world has always existed?  It’s such a strange and wonderful thing.

Yet with that comes unexpected feelings too.  A sense of responsibility.  When I’m having to make decisions about the world I’ve created – naming structures, shaping a tribe, choosing their fate – it can feel a little frightening, too.  I feel the pressure to get it right.  To make it real, and give the people I’ve created the life and the world they deserve.  Even worse, when I find a gap in my world.  A stone I’ve left unturned (which happens more frequently that I would like).  The guilt, of not giving my characters a complete world in which to roam.

The life of a god is lonely (*wry smile* as I compare my little writerly self to a god). No one can help you carry the world you’ve created.  The responsibility falls to your shoulders.  The decisions are yours alone.

On a lighter note, when world building, the temptation to create everything from scratch lures.  But there’s a whole world of mythology out there already to draw from: folk lore and legend and long existing magic.  I was taught early on, with the wise words of Isobelle Carmody, that a reference to mythology in books gives readers something familiar in an unfamiliar world, which in turn makes it seem more real.  I find this little pearl of wisdom demonstrates this particular lesson quite nicely indeed (and has the added benefit of making me smile):


Originally found here.


12 Responses to “Building Worlds”

  1. 1 Michael May 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Hi Katherine
    Well I’m in awe of people who can create whole new worlds to set their stories in. It’s something that I know is beyond me. The thought of trying to do it is just too overwhelming for my simple mind.

    I met a teacher in Jakarta who had spent the last 20 years creating an incredibly detailed world filled with different countries all with their own physical characteristics, culture, religion, history, language, mythology etc etc. An amazing man – I felt like I was talking to an undiscovered Tolkien. I asked him if he was going to set a story in his made up world. He said he wanted to but wondered if he should do some more world building first. I told him that I thought maybe 20 years was enough and he should start writing. Don’t know if he took my advice or not. I think it would be a terrible waste of a world if he didn’t.
    Anyway, well done with your creation. I’ve heard tell that the trick is to rest every seven days. Looking forward to reading that fantasy novel in the future!

  2. 2 Katherine Battersby May 3, 2009 at 9:55 am

    Thanks Michael!

    Fascinating story. It reminds me of D M Cornish (‘Monster Blood Tattoo’), who spent over 10 years creating a world, filling a series of note books and visual diaries with all its details. He had a chance encounter with a children’s publisher, who saw one of these and noticed that it had the number 23 on its spine, and was fascinated that there were more of them. She ended up practically pulling the story out of him, getting him to write and submit 1000 words a week for over a year.

    And by the way, no ‘simple mind’ could come up with Dinosaur Knights!

  3. 3 Fabio May 3, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Fabio wonders if he would be awesomer if he made up fewer words. Is so hard when Fabio doesn’t know that many real words to start with.

  4. 4 Michael May 4, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    That children’s publisher is also my publisher. I’ve met DMC a few times and had the chance to see one of those note books – fascinating.

  5. 5 marymcguire May 5, 2009 at 1:19 am

    Loved your cartoon – I’ve found that sometimes, even the words you think you’ve made up can turn up elsewhere. In this case, try googling “yarth”! I was most surprised.


    Mary Mc

  6. 6 juliettedominguez May 5, 2009 at 8:11 am

    Loved this post, and your reference to Isobelle Carmody — I am referencing a lot of myths, folklore and fairy tales in my forthcoming YA novel (contemporary mythic/fantasy) and they have provided a very inspirational framework. And I love your rabbit cartoon/avatar — very cool! :)

  7. 7 Katherine Battersby May 5, 2009 at 9:29 am

    Mary, I have found exactly the same thing. Fascinating process, isn’t it?

    Juliette, your Ya sounds intriguing, and glad you like my rabbit! He’s been with me a very long time.

  8. 8 Sheryl Gwyther May 5, 2009 at 10:44 pm

    I can so relate to this, Kath.
    Even fantasy worlds bedded in the real world need much care – like a boy with six extra arms, or a small mythological creature in a common north-Queensland rainforest or a bird with a penchant for Shakespeare. Ah, the magic of it, the frustrations and joys when one thing touches off another and what comes out is so right you know it’s always been there huddled in a tiny, fragile recess of your imagination.
    Love your blog! I can imagine you sitting in your little white room with fingers flying…..

  9. 9 juliettedominguez May 6, 2009 at 1:09 am

    thanks K! and fyi I have added your link to my site under fellow authors… :)

  10. 10 Katherine Battersby May 6, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Thanks Sheryl! Encouragement is always lovely. There certainly is something magic about creating new worlds. I know from your stories that you are attracted to the lure of it as much as I am!

    And thanks for that, Juliette – I have added a link to your site also.

  11. 11 Sheryl Gwyther May 7, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Tell Fabio with his body he doesn’t have to know many words – ‘yes’ will suffice. ;)

  12. 12 Katherine Battersby May 8, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Ha! Sheryl, you crack me up! And I’m sure Fabio will be happy to hear it…

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About this Blog…

A blog of ramblings about the world of writing and illustrating for children, by an author / illustrator who might just have a thing for rabbits.

Katherine's picture books, 'Squish Rabbit' and 'Brave Squish Rabbit', are out with Viking (Penguin, US) and UQP (Australia). Please e-mail if you would like her to blog about something in particular.

All text & images  Katherine Battersby

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