World Building in Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Novels
By Miranda Rae Carter
Have you ever wanted to write a paranormal or fantasy novel?
Have you ever read a paranormal or fantasy novel and wondered how the heck the author created such epic details? How did they remember them all?
Maybe you read a paranormal or fantasy novel and were left with questions about the world.
Well, there’s no specific template when it comes to building a world for authors; however, a good author will know countless more pages of detail about the world and its characters or species, than what is actually written in the story. Think of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, and her novel The Twilight Saga: The Official Illustrated Guide. This book contains over 500 pages of interviews, details about the clans, pictures, maps and so much more that was never written in the series itself. She probably has another novel worth of details about Twilight’s characters and scenes sitting hidden in a desk drawer somewhere. The point is, world building is not an easy task for authors; but if you want to do it right and have a paranormal or fantasy world that impresses your readers, your world must—at least—have these twenty-five details. Keep in mind, this goes beyond the page-turning plot and thorough character sketches you’ve established.
A name for the species you’ve created. Are they vampires, witches, centaurs? Or, are they something you’ve produced on your own, like I did, when I created the malions?
A detailed description of the world they live in. What does it look like? Does it smell different? Is it dark and musty or full of beautiful castles, meadows, mountains and waterfalls? Do they have their own calendar or special celebrations?
If they don’t live in regular society, they must have a way to make a living and get by. What is that?
A name for their language, and possibly some translations, if you are inventing your own language.
A life span, including details about reproduction, and age of maturity. This is also a good time to include details about how males and females are different, beyond reproductive organs, and circadian/cyclic rhythms. Do they sleep? When?
Details about how relationships, marriages and family structures work.
How big are your species compared to humans? Are the females bigger or smaller than the males, and how soon do they reach their full height and weight?
What do they eat? Do they have a special diet? Is there something specific they need to survive? Is it scarce or plentiful?
Is there something that would instantly kill your species, that may not kill a human? I’m thinking sunlight and vampires, or water and the Wicked Witch of the West.
Do they go to school or have any formal training when they are children? Who teaches them?
A mythology for your species that disproves any current mythology we may have believed up until this very point.
Laws and regulations in your fantasy world, or ones that differ from where your story takes place if you’re writing paranormal.
An explanation of how your species came into the world. Did they come from another planet? Did they come from the cross-breeding of two species? Were they a science experiment gone wrong?
Do they practice any religion? If so, how is it similar or different to current religious
practices? Do they worship a different God?
Detailed maps of the world you are creating.
Exact population numbers, in every area of the map you are drawing.
How does your species dress? Do they wear anything at all? Why?
A list of specific details about any special abilities your species may have, and what they do.
Details of your species’ weakness. Everyone species must have some sort of weakness.
Can your species exist alongside the human world? Why or why not?
Specific details about the enemy, the enemy’s world, and why they have become the enemy.
Is there a hierarchy in your species? What is the person at the top called? What is their purpose during that time and how long can they be in that position? Are there more than one leader?
What is your species emergency plan if they were discovered by the human world?
What is your species here for? Or, what is their purpose? Are they trying to protect something?
Are there human allies they have? If so, how many people know about them, and how do you go about becoming a trusted friend of this species? Is it forbidden to communicate with the human world?
These are some of the most important details of a good paranormal/fantasy novel; they make your story realistic and allow your readers to imagine the place as if it truly exists. The other aspect you must have before you publish your story (or self-publish, like I did) is an experienced editor who works in the paranormal/fantasy field. Even when you’ve built your world, perfected it, had it critiqued and edited by friends or fellow writers, there still may be questions left unanswered, or plot-points that need tweaking, and you only have one chance to impress your purchasing readers before they never pick up your novels again.
Scary, but true.
Good luck and happy writing!
Deep underground, an ancient species of mystic healers exist: the malions. Their capabilities are endless. Their strength is colossal. But they are also being hunted and their numbers are dwindling.
One of them has just fallen in love with a human.
On the west coast of Canada, sixteen-year-old Melissa Lawrences's life is about to take a turn for the worse. It could also be her saving grace.
She just can't get caught.
Adolescence hasn’t been fun for Liss Lawrence. And after a year in Vancouver, when she’s finally adjusted to her new situation, a freak car accident sends her life spinning out of control and crashing into the world of the malions, a hidden race silently helping humanity from secret enclaves underground.
Liss’s knowledge of the malions endangers her family when Jaredsons Securities takes an interest in her accident. Few know the men of Jaredsons Securities, an international intelligence company specializing in missing persons cases, are actually the Vykhars, ancient malion enemies whose true purpose is the eradication of the malion race. The Vykhars will stop at nothing to discover if Liss is connected with the malions, and if they do, they will exploit her.
Perhaps more dangerous still are Liss’s growing feelings for Rion, a strong-willed malion scarred by his encounters with Vykhars and carrying a secret that could destroy their relationship. But Liss has a secret and scars of her own, and Rion’s fiercely protective nature threatens to tear them back open.
Can this pair of unlikely lovers survive the dangers of the Vykhars? And can their love survive their own misconceptions?
This is an excerpt from Beneath the Surface, where Rion, the hero, gives the small yet crucial details of fairytale backstory I created to the heroine, Liss. He’s decided to give her these details because it’s time she learned the truth; she’s also in danger of being taken by the vykhars and Rion wants her to be properly informed. This scene happens approximately half-way through the novel. Backstory details are important, but, most importantly, not thrown to the reader at the beginning. Timing is everything.
I took a sip of my hot chocolate and crossed my legs the otherway. “So are all Jaredsons agents vykhars?”“Yes. Jared was the name of the very first vykhar.”“Are the stories true?”“What stories?”“Caine said that the stories in my book, Moonstone, Mae andMalion Tales, were true.”“That garbage came from a publishing house the Jaredsons own.The original stories were passed from malion to cubshen—child—but the Jaredsons got a hold of a copy, changed the stories aroundand sold it to the public, making everyone afraid of us. Once upona time, we were known as the Great Malion Healers. Now, we areknown only in storybooks as murderous monsters.”“You’ve convinced me of the truth.”“Yes, one of a few billion.”“So what’s the real story? Because in my book, it says that amalion kidnapped Princess Alysia and that Prince Jared rescuedher and killed the malion in a vicious fight.”Rion huffed and growled again. “See what kind of trash that is?”“I tore up the book at home when I found out you were a malion.I just couldn’t believe anything it said after all you’d done for me.”“Good, because the real story is called The King and the MalionHealer.” Rion walked over to his desk, rustled around with somepapers and a couple of drawers, and tossed a book on the bedbeside me. It had a dark green cover, and a shamrock embellishedat the top. I flipped it open and everything inside it was hand-writtenin black ink; the strange letters and symbols must have beentheir language.“The real story dates back more than nine hundred years. KingJared assumed the throne when his father died, and he took a wifeimmediately, the dreg manakacko. Her name was Alysia, butthe lying begins right after that: King Jared was a self-absorbed, abusive man. He kept his kingdom on the brink of starvation whilehe bathed in gold. Queen Alysia had to withstand unimaginabletorture; he did not leave her alone until she finally became pregnant.They had a son, Prince Warren, but when the queen did notconceive again, the abuse resumed.“One night, when King Jared was bedding one of QueenAlysia’s ladies-in-waiting, she fled the castle and paid a peasant totake her to a malion healer, hoping he could cure her barrenness,as you may have read. But the malion, whose name was Ranion,refused to help her. Instead, he offered her a new life with himin his malion community, with all the safety and protection shewould need.”“That part was never in the story.”“Just my point. He had heard of her suffering over the years,and fallen in love with her long before she ever began her searchfor him. When they finally met, he begged her not to return tothe king. But the queen would not leave without her son, so shereturned to the castle, only to find the king waiting for her, furiousas a selkie on the war path. The king’s persuasion ability was sostrong that Queen Alysia was unable to avoid telling him that shehad been to see a malion healer. King Jared was so angry withthe queen he took out his blade, cut off her beautiful long hair,and dragged her into the forest to kill the malion. The castle guardfollowed the king to the forest, but they refused to go near Ranion,because they were worried about the curses malions were rumoredto possess.”“Is that true?”Rion rolled his eyes. “No! It is pegasus dung!”I laughed. “Sorry for interrupting…go on.”“Okay, so…King Jared became furious at that point…”I listened intently as Rion continued. He became passionateand enthusiastic in his telling; it was as if he himself had been theone in battle with Jared. If there was anything I loved more thana garden full of flowers, it was a good story. I jumped when heused sound effects, and gasped when he began acting out the battlebetween Jared and Ranion. He had me on the edge of my seat andwired with excitement in just a few phrases.“…Jared took out his sword to stab Ranion in the heart, onlyQueen Alysia ran at King Jared, jumped on top of him and foughtto get the sword out of his hands.”“She jumped in?”“Yes!” he exclaimed, with eyes wider than I’d ever seen them.“She was not your typical twelfth century Lady. She actually sacrificedherself for Ranion. But King Jared was so strong that heripped Queen Alysia from his back and slashed her throat…”I gasped. “Oh Rion, that’s an awful ending—how could youend a story like that?”“It is a true story, Melissa. They do not all have happy endings.”“Well I don’t know if I want to hear any more.”“Then you will not hear the best part.”“It better be good!”“It is…” Excitement smouldered in his eyes. “Ranion’s furyagainst the king was so great at that moment, the tore the kingapart limb from limb, and—”“—He became the greatest leighdur of all time, after the Creatortold him that the he and Alysia would once again be reunited…”I sensed movement, and looked up see Rasadian standingbehind Rion. “Blah blah blah…spare us the rest.”“Oh, Krighven,” Rion teased Rasadian. “You were never onefor the story of Ranion.”“That is because I have to hear it every night. You forget that thecubshen’s play chamber is right next to mine; I seriously believeyou ought to find another story to tell them.”
“It is their choice. They want to hear it, so I tell it.”
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Miranda Rae Carter has lived in British Columbia her whole life, and is a self-proclaimed home-bug. She spends most of her time doing what she loves, and that is being a mom and wife—and trying to master the art of cooking. The rest of her time is divided between looking in mouths and writing.
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