If you read my review of Last Born, by Rachel Forde, in this post here, you know one of the things I loved about her book was the unique setting, and how well developed it was. Since we were covering world building here in the Writing Tips section of the blog, I asked her to write us a post on the topic and she agreed to share in her views... Thanks so much, Rachel! So, without further ado, I leave you with an author's take on world building:
"I am the author of Lastborn, the first book of the Sixth Cycle series, and Ron has graciously asked me to do a guest post on the subject of world-building. This is a pretty essential skill to have if you're writing fantasy; you have to keep the suspension of disbelief going without frustrating your readers with silliness, something I struggled with when I tried to combine the typical Medieval epic fantasy-style plot with a nineteenth-century setting.
In her review of Lastborn, Ron mentioned the importance of inner logic in character development, and I'd like to argue that the same is true when creating the world and societies that helped shape those characters. The biggest problem I had combining an epic fantasy and a Victorian setting was integrating a world full of magic and myth with a world that had relegated those things to the dustbin of ancient superstition.
There is a reason why you don't find much fantasy written in an industrial setting. The Victorian era was defined by a rejection of the supernatural and an embrace of science and progress--in other words, it is not a very welcoming setting for sorceresses, unicorns, tree-folk and thunderbirds. I had to find a way to capture that industrial, scientific spirit of the Epholans without making them dogmatic skeptics in denial of the world they've always been a part of.
I claimed Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law: "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This would be the Epholan way of rationalizing the mysterious creatures and events that didn't have a ready explanation. Why the Epholans would feel the need to rationalize them at all, when the Makedans, Iolangans, Talans and other groups simply accept things for how they appear, has to do with their history (a subject for later books).
This allows the Epholans to live alongside the supernatural, but also have an underlying discomfort toward it that makes them prefer their world of cities and railroads over the forest and its mysterious denizens. After all, culture is always a product of context and history; the trick in storytelling is to make sure that you know that context and history.
I didn't get into this much with Lastborn. I wanted to focus more on developing the characters, and I thought that information would be better suited to the second and third books. Still, it's good information to have in the back of my mind. Not all of your backstory information needs to make it into the book--if you're careful with your descriptions and dialogue, you can evoke that impression in the readers without page after page of exposition.
In the end, each culture and society in Lastborn has its own way of understanding the events around them. Each gets some aspects wrong, and others right--much like in real life, and the characters will have to sort through the conflicting stories and mythologies to uncover the truth about what is happening to their world."