Guest Author: World Building – Where Do You Start? by Jeffe Kennedy

Jeffe KennedyI am excited to welcome author Jeffe Kennedy, as she begins her celebrations for the release of her new series, The Uncharted Realms. The first novel, The Pages of the Mind, releases May 31st!

An Orphan’s Throne

Magic has broken free over the Twelve Kingdoms. The population is beset by shapeshifters and portents, landscapes that migrate, uncanny allies who are not quite human…and enemies eager to take advantage of the chaos.

Dafne Mailloux is no adventurer–she’s a librarian. But the High Queen trusts Dafne’s ability with languages, her way of winnowing the useful facts from a dusty scroll, and even more important, the subtlety and guile that three decades under the thumb of a tyrant taught her.

Dafne never thought to need those skills again. But she accepts her duty. Until her journey drops her into the arms of a barbarian king. He speaks no tongue she knows but that of power, yet he recognizes his captive as a valuable pawn. Dafne must submit to a wedding of alliance, becoming a prisoner-queen in a court she does not understand. If she is to save herself and her country, she will have to learn to read the heart of a wild stranger. And there are more secrets written there than even Dafne could suspect…


World Building – Where Do You Start?

JKennedy-Pages of the MindWorld-building is an interesting aspect of writing. Arguably every genre involves world building – even nonfiction. That’s because part of writing a story is creating a mental space for the reader where the story takes place. Even in writing a very dry informational article, the author chooses what details to include and which to discard as irrelevant or distracting enough to drag the reader’s attention in an undesirable direction.

Likewise, a contemporary fiction novel, like a Nora Roberts contemporary romance, still involves world building. She’s a good example because part of her genius is she creates a very specific environment for her characters, such as a small community, a profession, or even an island. She’ll usually ground the story – and very often the entire trilogy – in one or two places where the characters regularly reconvene. It might be a shop they run, a large house they all live in, a bar they frequent. She makes that place vivid and detailed – and also consistent.

On a larger scale, the more speculative fiction genres will often create entire worlds. Perhaps it’s an epic fantasy world like Tolkein’s, or a future-earth world like in Ender’s Game. Some writers create enormous encyclopedias of their worlds, complete with maps, social structures, economics, and so forth. Even in those cases, however, only some of those details make it into the story itself.

(We hope – if that’s not the case, then the story can really drag.)

Whatever aspects of the world that ground it come from the author’s voice. Nora Roberts almost always builds the foundation of her world on the characters’ professions and on the community they live in. Often the two are intertwined. In her In Death books, the story is built around Eve’s profession as a homicide detective, so Cop Central where she works is a very detailed world we visit often. A space that comes second is Roarke’s mansion, which is defined by his wealth. While we get glimpses into his profession, it remains largely vague. The detailed world is Eve’s detective work. Because it’s a speculative near-future world, we get technological aspects of the world, but rarely political or environmental ones. If you pay attention to Nora’s contemporary romances, that tends to be true of them also. She’s not interested in biology, politics, religion or socioeconomics. When touched upon, they’re colored in generally.

In contrast, Jacqueline Carey, who created an alternate historical world in her Kushiel books, is very interested in politics and religion. Those themes provide the foundation for her world. Also language and culture figures in profoundly. She does not, however, pay much attention to ecology or biology. That’s not where her author focus goes.

For me, environment tends to play a large role in my world building in part because I’m a biologist, and one who got her degree in a department largely focused on wildlife biology, including environmental toxicology and endangered species work. I live in the desert Southwest, which is experiencing a massive, ongoing drought, and my day job for many years was in drinking water. When I think about a world, the questions that arise for me have to do with where the fresh water comes from, how much there is, what the environment is like and what animals populate it. Politics and religion tend to factor in for me, too, probably because I grew up in an Irish Catholic family where renegade priests regularly argued about world problems over dinner.

So, in considering where to start with world building in a new story, a writer should consider first what specific place they want to ground the story in – which preferably is an intimate space they return to frequently, so detail can be built over time. The next layer will come from whatever aspects the author cares about most. If it’s the political system, that should be worked in. If it’s the mythology of the world, that comes next. Often those two are intertwined, no matter how diligently we attempt to separate church and state.

Regardless of what aspects the world is built on, details of it should always be chosen to drive the story and inform the characters. Story comes first!

Meet Jeffe Kennedy!

Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include non-fiction, poetry, short fiction, and novels. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award. Her essays have appeared in many publications, including Redbook. 

Her fantasy trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms, hit the shelves starting in May 2014 and book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and has been nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose, has been nominated for best fantasy romance of the year. Her fifth series, the highly anticipated erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, released starting with Going Under in July. 

She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

Contact Info: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | GoodReads | Amazon

JKennedy-Hearts BloodWant to purchase Jeffe’s novels?
The Uncharted Realms

  1. The Pages of the Mind (May 31, 2016)
  2. The Edge of the Blade (Dec 27, 2016)

The Mark of the Tala (Twelve Kingdoms #1)
Going Under (Falling Under #1)
Rogue’s Pawn (Covenant of Thorns #1)
Hopeful Monsters
Bird Woman
Petals and Thorns
Passionate Overture (Master of the Opera, Act 1)
Sapphire (Facets of Passion #1)
Feeding the Vampire
Five Golden Rings
Season of Seduction
Hunting the Siren

About Jackie 3282 Articles
I am a 30-something SAHM with two adorable boys and a supportive husband who is very tolerant of my reading addiction. I love to read and easily go through about a dozen books a month – well I did before I had kids. Now, not so much. After my first son was born, I began to take my hobby of reviewing a little more serious and started Literary Escapism to help with my sanity. I love to discuss the fabulous novels I’ve read and meeting all the wonderful people in the book blogging community has been amazing.


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