How to Build a World: A Discussion with Aña Anne.

I'm thrilled to share the conversation I had with Aña Anne, a dear friend of mine. We are both currently working on fantasy novels, which means we both have been working a lot with worldbuilding. We talked about our different methods, our tips and tricks, and our struggles with the topic. I hope you find this conversation helpful!


L: Hi Aña, thank you so much for coming back to the blog! It’s always a pleasure to have you here.

A: Lovely to be here, as always! Thank you for the invite, I’m so excited to talk about our topic today, I’ve actually just finished world building for my WIP.

L: Why don’t we start off by introducing the worlds we are currently working on? You can go first!

A: Wonderful! I’ve been slaving over it for a few months now, but I’ve finally settled on calling it the Oskari Islands. It’s loosely based on Ireland and Scotland, but with a lot of unsavory twists. Dark magic, bloody cults, and incredible secrets hide in the rolling green hills and grassy plains. Along with that, there is an alternate version of this world called the Oskara Islands, which also comes into play. This one is kind of based on Spain and China, but set in Hell. The process has been brutal, but I think I’ve finally settled on these two very different worlds.

How about you?

L: That’s so interesting, how you’ve incorporated all these different cultures! As for me, my world is called Tol Tava, and it is not based on anything. I’ve built it completely from scratch. The book is a retelling of Alice in Wonderland, but it doesn't really feel like a wonderland. This world is full of mysterious forests, bloody gardens, giant hills, and towers of bone. I designed it to feel like a strange dream.

A: I really do love what I’ve seen of Tol Tava so far, your descriptions of it are lovely, and I am awed by your endless creativity. How did you come up with this world, what was your process?

L: At first, I thought I wanted to base the world off rural Italy, but I quickly scratched that idea. It really came from a dream I had, so I wanted to go back and capture that feeling. My process began with drawing a rudimentary map and making up a list of places that popped into my head, then continuing to build the world and story around that.

For your book, Our Lady Blood and Roses, why did you decide to create a completely new world?

A: I’m not sure, honestly, it was a slow process. At first I wanted it to be one thing, but it ended up morphing into something completely different than what I had originally imagined. I knew going in what it would look like geographically, but after I studied the cultures and the story further, I found that it needed to fundamentally change. It can’t be based in our world, not with all of the factors that are so important to the series surrounding it. I created it more out of need to fit the story, than something I did just because I wanted to create a new world.

L: Can I ask how much detail you’ve gone into with your world? Have you given names to their languages, determined the fashion, etc...because for me, everything in my world is a bit more vague. I think I can get away with it, because it does feel like a fairy tale. However, for a more concrete fantasy...what are your thoughts on details like that?

A: In my WIP, I have fleshed out a fair amount of the cultures and religion, but otherwise I try to stay away from little stuff as much as possible, worrying about them gives me panic attacks. I try to figure out what is important to the story and leave the rest alone.

What do you love and hate about creating worlds? Was there anything you were particularly excited about or frustrated with when creating Tol Tava?

L: I’ve been writing historical fantasy for the past few years, so switching to a brand new world was a bit daunting. I love the way I can stretch my imagination, and literally create anything that sounds interesting, but it is difficult for me to show the scope of this world. It’s frustrating that I’ve created many places in this world, but the characters will never go there, because this particular story doesn’t call for it. I think finding a good balance between story needs and your imagination is essential.

What are your thoughts on this?

A: I agree, I wouldn’t advise anyone to bite off more than they can chew, balancing between story, characters, and setting is extremely important, it can make or break a book. World building, as fun as it is, isn’t everything, your readers should remember more than just the scenery. But, to go a little off topic, it’s interesting to me that you said that you feel you can stretch your imagination in world building, while I’ve had the opposite experience. When I first had the idea for Oskari, I knew that I had to base it off of somewhere real, because I don’t feel that I have the skills or the “qualifications” to make something from scratch, which is such an odd insecurity that I think majorly got in the way of my creativity. But when I did relax, I loved the freeing feeling that came with being able to do anything. It’s powerful, really.

When creating Tol Tava, did you ever have a personal limit on how much you added, or a point where you thought, “no, this is too much”? Sometimes I feel that I’ve created too many cities that aren’t necessary, simply to fill up space on the map.

L: I completely understand that. With Tol Tava, I created about a dozen spots, because the world really came before the story, and I wanted to have something to build upon. I just gave the cities one defining characteristic such as, Esk is made completely of gold and marble. Most of what I actually need gets filled in when I’m writing. I did decide that I didn’t need a religion nor did I need to figure out the systems of nobility, because it will never come up in the story.

How easy is it for you to implement the ideas you have on paper (the cities, the religions, etc…) into the story? For me, weaving everything in naturally is a bit of a writing exercise.

A: It depends what the idea is, for me. If it’s something relatively small, it’s not usually a problem, making that jump from idea to paper. But if it’s something big, I often find myself derailing my own image, and I’ll get an urge to write something that is completely different than how I want a religion or culture to come out. I am my own worst enemy, unfortunately. Or maybe it’s my characters, they have minds of their own. But aside from that, I also find it extremely difficult taking every detail that I’ve come up with, from the world to the background to the characters, and fitting them all into the book without overwhelming readers. I think that might be the hardest part for me, save for the actual world building process.

Do you think that characters and worlds (including the cultures and religions inside of them) have an important relationship? If so, how do you think you’ve shown that in your writing and what steps have you made to make that relationship work?

L: I absolutely think that those two things have an important relationship. People are shaped by their environments, which means that characters and their world should work in tandem. In my writing, I think it is shown by how certain characters are raised and their behavior patterns. Zez, who is from our world, is very casual, she swears a lot, she often shows fear. For Zanya, who is raised in Tol Tava, she is more formal and serious, using words as a tool. She is from a more cutthroat environment, which means she will act differently than someone who was raised somewhere else.

For someone just dipping their toes into world building, what tips would you give them?

A: Take notes from the world around you, study different cultures, look at different places around the world and the history they have. Everything you need to create a new world is in this one, whether you’re using it as a starting point or you want to do everything differently. However, you will find all of your inspiration in the moments you aren’t being held down by arbitrary rules. Even if what you’re imagining is completely out of left field, explore that, dive deep, don’t hold back. You can edit and alter as you wish, but for those first few moments of building, lay everything out on the table. You won’t find uniqueness in doing the expected.

L: That is some really solid advice. I suppose one thing I’d like to add is don’t be afraid to have fun. This isn’t some boring assignment or stressful project. It’s a strory that you are excited to write, so just have fun creating the world and stretching your imagination! Don’t worry about how others build their worlds and try to do exactly what they do. Have fun, relax, and just go wherever your mind takes you.

Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about?

A: I suppose not! Thank you again for having me, these discussions always make my day! For anyone reading this, I hope they gained something too, it’s such an interesting topic that I think we can all learn from, whether that’s in experience or reading.

L: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Come back to the blog anytime!


Follow Aña on Instagram: @ana_anne_writes

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