When Faith, Misty, C. E., and I first started talking about what we wanted this site to be, we agreed that it would be fun to discuss issues we encounter as writers of speculative fiction. Each of us specializes in different subgenres of fantasy, and each of us has dabbled in other genres as well, be they science fiction, mystery, romance, or mainstream. And in writing these various types of books, we encounter creative issues that are both universal to writers of fiction and quite specific to the type of books we’re writing. The intersection of those concerns, the ways in which each writer deals with his or her creative challenges, can be fun to explore. It can also be incredibly illuminating for seasoned professionals and beginners alike. So that’s we hope to do here, when we’re not posting less heady stuff, or rants, or whatever else moves us on a given day. We hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to come back again, and bring a friend or two.
Today, I happen to be thinking about some advice that I often offer to beginning fantasy writers who are making their first attempts at worldbuilding and developing background for their novels. I write epic fantasy, and I usually work in novel length. But one of the things I usually suggest to people who are developing new worlds is that they take episodes from the history of their lands and write short stories about them. Why? Several reasons. First, this is a great way to make yourself imagine small details about your world that will come in handy later, when you’re writing your book (or books). Second, it can help to establish an authorial voice for your writing that will carry over to the novels. I find that each new series I write has a sound, a style of prose, that is unique to that project. Writing short stories about your world before you begin the novel itself can help you find that sound. And third, it gives you something else to sell and publish. Having a short story appear in advance of a novel release will generate more interest in the series and give you another publication to talk about when dealing with agents and editors; never a bad thing.
The thing is, while this is great advice, I don’t always follow it as often as I should. [Hangs head in shame.] I know, I know. What kind of idiot comes up with a fine suggestion like this and then ignores it himself? Answer: My kind of idiot. As it happens, though, I’m currently in the process of developing a new world for the series I’ll write after I’ve finished my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. And yes, I’ve started working on a short story that has nothing to do with the books themselves, but that manages to bring in some history of my world and also some background on my lead character. I’m learning a lot about my world, I’m finding that voice I mentioned before, I’m getting to put to use some of the research I did for the books, and best of all, I’m having a great time writing it.
So, my questions to my fellow writers: Are there bits of advice you give to beginning writers that you sometimes have trouble following yourself? Are there certain things you like to do when worldbuilding that help you develop histories, maps, religions, magic systems, and other components of a good fantasy setting? When you write short fiction do the stories tend to be connected to larger projects, or do they tend to stand alone?