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October 8th, 2017

Allan Batchelder is the author of an awesome grimdark fantasy series, Immortal Treachery, and we've had such fun chatting at Seattle author events (as well as on Twitter) that we lately decided to exchange guest posts. Since world-building is often on my mind and he does such an excellent job of it, I asked him to chat about that. Here's Allan!

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Some writers may find the task of world-building daunting. But if you were lucky enough to grow up like Sherman Alexie, George R. R. Martin, even Stephen Colbert (or me), your deep and lengthy experience with Dungeons and Dragons makes the process feel like donning a favorite pair of old jeans. You are already aware, for instance, that magic must have a cost. You understand that occupied cities and territories have governments. You know that money makes the world go ‘round. In short, you’ve been dealing with the minutiae of world-building – other people’s and your own – for so long that’s it’s become almost second nature.

But what if you never played Dungeons and Dragons?

Well, that means you were one of those kids. You know, the ones with actual lives, with friends, with things to do! We D & D fans generally named our orcs and kobolds after you. But let’s suppose that now you’ve seen the light. You never played D & D, but you regret your shortsightedness and would now like advice on how to proceed with this world-building business.
Easy.
That’ll be 25 gold pieces.
I’m not kidding.
Okay, I am kidding, but it’ll cost you 250 experience points.
Fine; I’ll help you.

Consider the world you live in. It’s a poorly held secret the George R. R. Martin did so when creating his Song of Ice and Fire. The whole “Game of Thrones” universe is famously modelled upon the War of the Roses, between the Yorks/Starks and Lancasters/Lannisters.  This was his skeleton, his framework. From there, for example, Dorne is Spain. Meereen is Cleveland. Kidding. I think. But if, as I said, you do consider the world we live in, you’ll see a veritable checklist of questions to be answered. Questions like: Is there religion? If so, who or what is worshipped and what does this look like? Why does it happen and what, if anything, do the faithful receive in return? If there is religion, are there also non-believers? How are they viewed and/or treated? What does the calendar look like? How many seasons are there? If you have more than one moon, what are tides like? Are there nights of multiple full moons? What is the light quality like on those occasions? I mentioned money earlier. What passes for currency in your world?

Literally everything you encounter in our world can have its fantasy analog, you see? Here, do this exercise:

We have buses, they have…
We have McDonald’s, they have…
We have WWII, they have…
We have Exxon, they have…
We have crack, they have…
We have Cuervo Gold, they have…
We have coffee, they have…
We have Motel 6, they have…
We have football, they have…
We have Westboro Baptist Church, they have…
We have the Red Cross, they have…
We have ATMs, they have…
We have Disneyworld, they have…
We have tornado alley, they have…

Make a game out of it. Play it with your kids. Or your neighbor’s kids. Just don’t offer them candy. But do play it. Answer all the questions you can, and then let your mind loose in your new world. Have at it like a Weight Watcher in a Krispy Kreme!

You will love what you discover.


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Thank you, Allan! I am going to use that exercise for my next world-building project. Incidentally, my guest post for Allan is over here at his blog: he wanted me to write about why my tastes in fantasy often *aren't* grimdark/violent, so I did that--although I should add I do really like Allan's series! It's got humor and and a diverse range of characters, which saves it from being all dark all the time. Go check it out.