One of the keys to writing a story that draws in readers is building a world that is believable, intriguing, compelling…a world that drives plot forward when the character finds herself in opposition to the way things normally go. And a pal of the Purple Inkers, Rebekah Loper, is pretty much an expert in world-building. We talked to her about why she loves inventing worlds in her head and then putting them down on paper for readers, her background in fantasy and sci-fi, and her new book, The A-Zs of Worldbuilding.
1. Tell us a little about your background. How did you become interested in fantasy stories? What books and movies have influenced your storytelling?
Some of my earliest memories are my mom reading to me and my siblings, and one of the first fantasy stories I remember being impacted by was The Chronicles of Narnia. I remember being enthralled by the whole mythos and world C.S. Lewis created as a canvas.
Author Rebekah Loper
The next set of stories that I remember impacting my sense of storytelling is a little-known series called The Bracken Trilogy by Jeri Massi. In many ways, it dealt with more mature themes than Narnia did. I remember reaching the end of the trilogy, and something about how one of the main characters simply died of old age really resonated with me. Seeing that heroic characters don’t always have what we perceive to be heroic endings made fantasy very attainable to me. It made heroes suddenly human. The protagonists were all mostly female — young girls, teenage girls, and mothers, and mature women. This series may have also sparked my interest in herbalism.
The stories that most impacted by writing, though, were The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. The sheer scope and scale of Middle-Earth and the stories it contained captivated me completely — to the point that I joined a fandom roleplay site, and that is really where I got my start with writing.
Lord of the Rings literally changed my life. I found National Novel Writing Month through that fan site (and NaNoWriMo is how I ended up building my local writing community). I wrote my first 50,000 word story on that site (a fanfic that is buried in the depths of their archives, thank God!). I received (and gave) my first story critiques on that site. I am still in contact with several people from that site.
When I learned that J.R.R. Tolkien had created many of the languages in his stories, that really sparked my interest in creating worlds. For a while, I got caught in the ‘oh, I have to create languages!’ phase that many fantasy writers seem to stumble into when Tolkien is their introduction to world-building, but fortunately I had the sense to realize my time was better spent elsewhere. Tolkien created languages because he was a linguist. I am not!
2. What are a few of your favorite fantasy stories?
Other than the ones I mentioned above, some more of my favorites are the His Fair Assassin
series by Robin LaFevers (I reviewed it for Fantasy-Faction
if you’re interested), Arena
by Karen Hancock (a Pilgrim’s Progress retelling as a portal science-fantasy, and it’s awesome), The Song of Albion
series by Stephen Lawhead (steeped in Celtic mythos, which always fascinates me because of my heritage), The Dragon Jousters
series by Mercedes Lackey, The Staff & The Sword
series by Patrick W. Carr. I could go on and on.
3. When you think of a story that has fantastic world building elements, which story do you think of, and why?
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman is, hands down, my favorite book when it comes to fantastic world-building. I definitely have a thing for dragon stories. Hartman created an incredibly rich, complex world with the intersection of the history, culture, and religions, and she hit the jackpot on how it intertwined and caused conflict. My main issues with the stories were the expectations she set up for the readers on relationships between characters and then didn’t follow through with. The ending in that regard was too ambiguous.
4. What is it about world building that you love the most?
I’ve always been fascinated by ‘what if’ both on the intimate, close-up level of storytelling, and on the global scale of world-building. Sometimes I start to world-build with a goal in mind — I want to know what type of society or culture would bring about XYZ. Sometimes I need to know because I’m unsure of a character’s motivation. And sometimes I just want to get lost in a different world for a while, and I don’t have a particular story in mind. Mostly, I just love exploring ‘what if’. What if… my chickens could talk? What if my mirror led to alternate dimensions? What if a world had two suns? Anything that catches your imagination can be a point to start world-building from.
5. What made you decide to write a book about the process of world-building?
Well, I first did the A-Zs of World-building for the A-Z Blogging Challenge a few years ago. It had a much higher response than I expected, and so many writers told me it was fascinating to see how I could just jump from one thing to another and connect dots the way I did. For me, it’s a very intuitive process, but many people don’t know how to think like that.
There are many
good resources out there. What I would often find, though, is that they were either too brief, too technical, or too focused on world-building for gaming. One of the very first years that I participated in NaNoWriMo, someone created a ‘30 Days of World-building’ exercise set
in the NaNo forums. It was immensely helpful to me, but the creator never expanded it further than that. I looked for years for something similar to that, and never quite found it.
So, you know they say ‘write the book you want to read’? That’s basically what I did.
6. How did you come up with the exercises in your book?
The exercises in the book are basically my thought process when I sit down to develop an aspect of world-building. All of my world-building is taking a concept and asking “What if?” and then just building on it from there. I haven’t necessarily used every exercise in the book, nor have I used it in the workbook format like this, but the process is what I use. But I am going to go through the exercises for my NaNo planning this year, because I am woefully behind!
7. How does working on world building add to a novel’s effectiveness? How does it help a writer to make their work better?
A story is only as effective as its setting, and when you’re writing a story that doesn’t take place in our world, the setting can’t be taken for granted. There can be things that translate well (especially when the setting is earth-like, in the case of historical fantasy and portal fantasy). But usually a fantasy story is fantasy because it’s a story that can’t be told well in our world due to the setting or the characters and sometimes simply because it might be too inflammatory. Getting the setting to mesh with the story and be accessible to the reader is what makes world-building vital.
8. Is there anything in your book that writers won’t find elsewhere?
I’ve not come across another world-building book with this broad scope of topics all in one place, especially one that focuses less on the technical or scientific aspects and more on finding what makes sense for your story and world. Most resources that I’ve seen focus only on a few core topics, and often only from one aspect. I deliberately tried to be as broad with each topic as I could, while still being concise so that the focus is more on the creation of each aspect of world-building than ‘you should or shouldn’t do XYZ’ without examples or inspiration.
And really, even covering 26 different topics (and how they intersect with each other), there is still so much more to consider! I’ve got two more books in mind for an A-Zs of World-building series even now.
9. How can writers get a copy of your book?
The print book will be out on September 30
! It will be available on my own site
, and the CreateSpace store at first. I’ll be working on adding it to other retailers as I can!
About the Book:
Worldbuilding is the ultimate act of creation for speculative fiction writers, but how exactly do you worldbuild? You ask ‘what if’ and use each answer as a springboard to more questions and answers about your fictional world.
In The A-Zs of Worldbuilding, that ‘what if’ process is broken down into 26 themed chapters, covering topics ranging from architecture to zoology. Each chapter includes a corresponding set of guided exercises to help you find the ‘what if’ questions relevant to your story’s world.
Fair warning, though: worldbuilding is addictive. Once you get started, you might never put your pen down again.
About the Author:
Rebekah Loper loves to create worlds — whether they are magical and fictional, or a productive farm in her suburban backyard where she makes futile attempts to curse Bermuda grass from all existence.
Rebekah lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband, dog, formerly feral cat, a flock of chickens, and an extensive tea collection. She blogs at rebekahloper.com, and is also a contributing blogger at Fantasy-Faction.com and The Rabid Rainbow Ferret Society (fictionalferrets.wordpress.com).