By Trish Milburn
There is something absolutely magical about a book that sweeps you into a totally different world and makes you believe you are there, even when “there” is Middle-earth, an urban fantasyland where vampires aren’t just scary myths, or a school for young wizards. I’m in awe of authors whose talents lie in remarkable world building. They don’t just tell a compelling story with an interesting setting and fascinating characters. They create from nothing an entire new world. How heady and incredibly awesome is that?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is a classic example. Seriously, I want to live in one of the Hobbit houses in the Shire, visit the Elves in Rivendell, and go riding with the Riders of Rohan. Tolkien’s stories and Peter Jackson’s creation of Middle-earth in the three fabulous Lord of the Rings films made me believe this place was real, that I could go there if I really wanted to. Two tickets to the Shire, please.
The same could be said of Caldwell, New York, the setting of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood vampire series. Even though it’s not a fantasy world like Middle-earth, I can see and feel the darkness, the menace lurking, waiting to pounce.
And I couldn’t possibly write this post without mentioning J.K. Rowling, Hogwarts and Harry Potter’s magical environs. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to head to Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station in London on my way to see Harry, Ron and Hermione at Hogwarts. And perhaps help the gang kick Voldemort’s wizard butt once and for all while I’m at it.
What is it about these fictional locales that make them seem so real? First, the authors layer in details that make the settings three-dimensional, not a flat, two-dimensional place that’s easily forgotten as soon as the book is closed. They create their own mythology and lexicon, not a small endeavor. And then they people the story with unforgettable characters. You will find no cardboard heroes and heroines in these worlds. These characters are so real that you’ll want them for your best friend, your mentor or your lover. Just say Hermione Granger, Gandalf, or Zsadist, and remarkably complex, three-dimensional characters spring to mind. One of these aspects alone won’t lead to perfect world building, however. What good is a fantastic world if your characters are boring?
Reading wonderful stories where world building was critical led me to try it for my own stories. The effort led to one of my Golden Heart finaling manuscripts this year, Coven. It was so much fun to write, and I’m absolutely in love with the story. And I fully intend to delve into the wonderful world of world building again.
Are you a fan of world building? What author do you think does it especially well? And if you could visit one of these worlds, which would it be?