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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How I Came Up With My Story World by Jill Williamson






My son and I were walking along the streets of Burbank, California, and we saw a burned-down house. There was a tree in the yard that had partially burned. It was half charred and half leafy green. I thought it was the coolest image. So I ran home and Photoshopped it. It’s the same image that’s the header on my blog. I knew I had to write a story about a land half cursed in darkness.

While I was working to think up a plot, I started to think about this medieval land in which my story would take place. I knew one thing for certain. I wanted to draw a map first. I love when there are maps in the front of fantasy novels.

My map turned out a bit bigger than I was going for. And it looked an awful lot like Africa. So I scaled some of the shores down a bit until I was satisfied with the shape. Since I wanted half my land cursed in Darkness, I shaded the western half of the land gray. I liked the idea of some natural barriers that separated Darkness from Light, so I added some mountains. And where there were no mountains in the south, I drew in a manmade wall.

I also added dots to depict cities.

Way too may dots.

It totally overwhelmed me to think about coming up with names for all of those dots! So I erased a few. But there were still plenty that needed names.

So I stole a trick that J. K. Rowling used in her Harry Potter books. She used Latin for many of her character names and magic spells. I thought that was clever. So I looked on my bookshelf and saw a French dictionary and a Hebrew/Greek concordance. Hebrew/Greek sounded much more fantasy-like. Plus, I liked the idea of using words from the Bible.

So I used Hebrew words to name many of my cities. For example, “allown” is Hebrew for “oak” or “tree,” so Allowntown—in the very center of my map—is where my half dead-half living tree is. Mahanaim is a city from the Bible, but I used it too because it means “two camps” and Mahanaim is another city that is built over the border of Darkness. Er’Rets, the name of my medieval land, is the word used for “earth” in Genesis when it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

I used this proves to name many cities, mountains, lakes, rivers, and characters.

The next thing I did was make a character chart for each city with blanks for Lord of the manor, his wife, their children, what idol they worshiped, what did they eat, produce, what was the weather like, what kind of climate was it, what ethnicity were the people, things like that. I used a set of encyclopedias and looked up similar places. For example, Barth Duchy is supposed to be a desert, similar to northern Africa. So I looked up some countries in northern Africa and filled in whatever I could on my city chart. I did this for every town in my land.

I didn’t want to name everything and everyone Hebrew words. I wanted some variation so that it would sound like there were different languages.

So I came up with some tricks of my own. Allowntown, for example, happens to be an orchard town. So I brainstormed a list of types of apples on the back of my city chart for Allowntown. Gala, Pippin, Cortland, Concord, Crab, Ginger, Fuji, etc. And when I needed a new character from Allowntown, I picked a name from the list and cross it off.

I gave each town a theme. Carmine is filled with vineyards, so I brainstormed a list of things having to do with wine: Rioja, Flint, Terra, Keuper, Pinot, Concord, Malbec, etc. I used Inupiat names for Berland: Koyukuk, Yumikak, Arluk. I used Gaelic names for Magos. Stars for Cherem. Hawaiian names for Nesos. It was a lot of fun.

One project in particular that took me a long time was designing a banner for each city in Er’Rets. You can see the shields here. This was very time consuming, but it instantly gave each city some more character. They now had a mascot and colors. So I knew generally what their flags, uniforms, and shields would look like. Last December I sewed several of these banners as thank you gifts for the teens who acted and produced the book trailer for To Darkness Fled.

I also sketched out castles in cities where major parts of the story took place. That helped me when I needed to describe buildings or the characters’ movements around them. I sketched some of my main characters. I wrote a history of my land with a detailed timeline of who was king when, what major events took place, wars, births, deaths, etc. I wrote family trees so that I knew who married whom. I created character charts for my top twenty main characters. And I brainstormed idols for many of the cities in Er’Rets.

I ended up with so many piles of paper that I put everything into a 3-ring binder with tabs for each city to keep myself organized. My “Er’Rets bible” has been a really helpful tool as I wrote this series.


From Darkness Won
Achan steps into his role as Crown Prince and prepares for war. But war against whom? Could Esek still be alive? Has Lord Nathak taken Esek’s place? Or is the mysterious Hadad the true enemy Achan must confront?

Vrell has her own agenda of serving Prince Oren as a healer, but when she is stormed and lost to the Veil, Achan does all he can to bring her back. His conversations with her are strange, though, as if she has no memory of who he is.

In a land consumed by Darkness, the fate of Er’Rets hangs in the balance as Achan endeavors to take the throne and end the reign of Darkness

3 comments:

Susan Stitch said...

FABULOUSLY helpful post! Thank you so much. I want to go out and create a new world, even though I don't write fantasy. How fun!

Christine Lindsay said...

Wow, what a gorgeous looking book. I'm a bit the same as you when I look for a name of a person or the name of a place. When I'm out driving I look at the street signs. I found the name of my town that way in my WIP. And I watch the credits of movies to see the names of people. Found a few secondary character names that way.

Patty Smith Hall said...

Jill, I was blown away when I looked over the map of your world! Such detail!

Thanks for being here today!