Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Not Sure How to Create a Fantasy World? Build It!

Drum roll, please .... Ellen Jensen Abbott is here! Ellen is celebrating the release of THE KEEPER, the last book in her trilogy. Fans of the first two, WATERSMEET and THE CENTAUR'S DAUGHTER, are itching to get their hands on THE KEEPER. Hurry up and get your copy, readers!! This one will sell out fast.
Ellen is an expert at world building, so I thought it might be interesting to hear some tips from her on how to build a fantasy world from scratch. Take it away, Ellen!

One of my favorite words is “verisimilitude.” It’s a long word and seems like it would be hard to remember but it simply describes something that seems true. Verisimilitude is always my goal when writing a story. Even if I’m writing a story about a centaur—a mythological creature who is half man, half horse—I want that centaur to seem real.
In fantasy, the challenge of making a story seem real is particularly hard. Not only do writers often have characters like centaurs, they have totally made-up worlds! Those worlds are fun to write about, but to make them seem real, to give them verisimilitude, you have to do some extra work. Below are some of my favorite tips for creating verisimilitude in your story—whether it’s set in this world or another. 

Tip 1: Draw it! It helps to have a clear image of a place or a character in your story. I often get out my crayons or colored pencils to draw a picture of some part of my story. Sometimes I cut out pictures from the newspaper or print pictures from the internet if they help me see a place or a person better. I hang my drawings and clippings on my bulletin board in my office so I can see them when I write.
Tip 2: Map it! Like drawing a character or a place, I find it very helpful to draw a map of where my characters live. In my fantasy trilogy, The Watersmeet Trilogy, I mapped out the entire land, complete with mountain ranges, rivers and villages. But I’ve also mapped out the apartment where a character lives or the street she lives on. These maps help me make sure my characters are headed in the right direction whenever they leave one room and go to another! (Note from Nancy: I couldn't upload Ellen's maps. If you ever get the chance to hear her speak, she'll show you these, and believe me, you will be amazed.)
Tip 3: Look it up!  There are all kinds of cool books out there that can help you build real worlds for your characters to live in. If you’ve never been to Arizona but your character takes a trip there, you can find guide books to Arizona in your library and on line. The books will tell you what kind of animals your character might see, what kind of plants grow in the desert, and what the weather might be like. If you’re going to the desert, you want your character to remember his water bottle! 
Tip 4: Schedule it! I am writing a story right now about a girl who is in ninth grade. Every day she goes to school and follows a schedule. If I change the schedule every day or if she goes to no class but math, my readers are going to think my story is not very realistic, so I have to draw up a set schedule for her. Similarly, in Watersmeet, The Centaur’s Daughter, and The Keeper, I kept a calendar of my character’s adventure. I needed to know how long it took her to travel between the Obrun Mountains and Giant’s Cairn so that the next time she made the journey I could have it take the same amount of time. If it took too little time, I would hurt my verisimilitude. 
Tip 5: Name it! For any writer, a good baby-naming book is critical! All of your characters have to have names and believe it or not, you can run out of them. I keep two baby naming books on my desk at all times. When I’m writing fantasy, I can’t use familiar names. (Who ever heard of a centaur named Bob?) But I use pieces of names and connect them to come up with new names that still sound like they could be real. 
Tip #6: Write it! Sometimes you just have to write out a scene to discover what you want/need to know about it. When I’m writing, I let myself make lots of mistakes and try out different plot lines or characters or places until I find the one I’m happy with it. This means I throw out a lot of pages, but I’m learning the whole time I’m writing. And I can always go back and fix up the mistakes later.

Thank you, Ellen. Those are wonderful tips!

WITty kids and writers everywhere, are you ready to build a world by building verisimilitude? Get out your pencils and draw one of your characters or sketch a map of where that character lives. You may discover a whole new part of your story. 

And guess what?
Ellen is giving away a copy of WATERSMEET
so you have the chance to get started on this great trilogy!
Just comment below OR email me: 
We will pick a random winner next Thursday, November 21.
About WATERSMEET: (Perfect for 5th grade and up) From her birth, Abisina has been outcast—for the color of her eyes and skin, and for her lack of a father. Only her mother’s status as the village healer has kept her safe. But when a mythic leader arrives, Abisina’s life is ripped apart. She escapes alone to try to find the father and the home she has never known. In a world of extremes, from the deepest prejudice to the greatest bonds of duty and loyalty, Abisina must find her own way and decide where her true hope lies.
About the trilogy: Readers follow Abisina as she leaves her village to search for her father and for acceptance. On her journey, she discovers the whole land of Seldara: the dwarves of the Obrun Mountains; the fauns of the western forests; the centaurs of Giant’s Cairn—some friends, some foes. When she reaches Watersmeet, she thinks she’s found the home of her dreams where all of Seldara’s folk are welcome, but soon Watersmeet’s existence is at risk and Abisina finds herself outcast again. Can she save the home she loves? Can she unite the land against a gathering evil? Can she embrace her destiny and become the Keeper of Watersmeet? 

Looking for more? Go over to Ellen's website:

Have a fantasy-filled, fantastic week!
: )



  1. Great tips, Ellen. I can't wait to read The Keeper. But for the record, I would definitely read a book with a centaur named Bob!

    1. Of course! But a book with a centaur named Bob immediately becomes a comedy. That was not the right fit for these books. I'm working on a comedy now; we'll see if I can pull it off!

  2. Great advice, Ellen! And hello, Nancy!
    Sharing this now on my FB writers group ...

  3. Verisimilitude! The word itself gives me a great mental image. Thanks Ellen for these great tips on focusing and creating realism for my readers in any genre.

  4. Ellen rocks! You should hear her talk on this subject! So great.

    1. Awww. You rock my world, too, Nancy!

  5. I second what Alissa said about the centaur named Bob. And you could totally write a comic novel, Ellen.

    Thanks Ellen (and Nancy) for these fun tips! Worldbuilding is tough for me (which is why I stick to realistic contemporary stories). I've done the mapping, but never thought of drawing the characters themselves. Good idea! And I already have a copy of WATERSMEET, so please let someone else win.

    1. Glad you found something useful here, Joanne! Remember that it doesn't matter how well you draw. The thought process (and maybe even the motion of drawing) will trigger new ideas! I've seen it happen in workshops.

  6. Would love to win it. It has been on my to read list far too long already.